Last night for those who watched the Steelers hard-fought victory and are part of Steeler Nation will long remember the joy displayed from the fans to the field and vice versa. While Pittsburgh is still a long shot to earn a post-season berth, and have been outscored by 58 points by the opposition; the black & gold have exceeded the predicted finish by New Arena website.
Being raised near a farming community west of Chicago will go to an analogy---"even a blind chicken sometimes finds a kernel of corn". New Arena did in fact get close in predicting the final record for some of the teams in the league, yet in regards to the Steelers....oops! They predicted a 5-12 season. Mike Tomlin again will have never coached a below .500 Steeler team.
Watching Harris lug the leather last night no doubt gives Tomlin hope as he has a back he can build around. Harris gained 188 yards against the Browns in victory, and continued a Pittsburgh tradition. What tradition you ask? When Pittsburgh has a back that rushes for over 100 yards against Cleveland the Steeler's record is 31-4-1, and when they don't? Pittsburgh's record is 47-56. Staying in the AFC North and heading down the Ohio River to Cincinnati we find a young quarterback at the top of his game.
The last two weeks in must-win situations for the Bengals Joe Burrow has completed 67 of 85 for 971 yards with eight touchdowns and nary an interception. The Bears and Giants have had many an important clash between them over the years, but last Sunday was not one of them. Since division play began in 1933 these two so-called flagship franchises have played thirty-nine times with the Bears winning twenty-three. Only five times have both teams ended the season with a losing record.
Was not sure what to expect, yet by the time half-time rolled around, it was very apparent that NYG was not going to have Mike Glennon actually throw a pass, and have a teammate catch the ball for long yardage. Glennon a former Bear finished with a passer rating of 5.3. No, that was not a misprint. Chicago entered the game dead last in the defensive passer rating department with a mark of 104.5, which is a far cry from the Fangio-coached defense of 2018 that lead the league.
Glennon's performance, should I use the word performance? allowed the Bears to escape the cellar to 101.1. Will Vic Fangio be a candidate to become the next Bears head coach? That would mean the McCaskey family would have made a wise decision. Stay tuned.
We have a doubleheader on Saturday that will sure help determine the final teams earning a post-season berth, and of course, the Sunday night game matches two old AFL rivals.
The last Sunday in the NFL regular season in 1981 had Tampa Bay on the road to Detroit for the division title. Lee Roy Selmon demonstrated why he was a future Hall of Famer with his performance in the Buccaneers victory. The reward for Lee Roy and his teammates? Travel to Dallas for the first round of the playoffs on January 2nd, and our historical road today takes us back to that game.
|Lee Roy Selmon|
When in doubt and of course to be entertained put on an NFL Films team highlight film, and the Cowboys for '81 is our title for the column. For the decade of the '70s the new big-time rivalry was the George Allen-led Redskins vs. the Tom Landry-led Cowboys.
Allen is no longer the head coach of Washington, and the new kid on the block is Dick Vermeil and the Eagles. The physical dominant victory by Philadelphia in the NFC title game in 1980 has convinced many that the Eagles not the Cowboys are the team to beat in the NFC East. The Dallas offense in 1980 was superb, and if anything was even better in 1981. What about the defense, and more specifically defending the pass for Dallas entering 1981?
Dallas finished a strong seventh in 1980 in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 63.8 (league average was 73.7), but an evaluation of the starters for Landry tells us more. The starting corners of Steve Wilson and Aaron Mitchell are in fact only adequate, while Dennis Thurman is a fine ballhawk, but only an average tackler with limited range at free safety. Dallas does not draft a defensive back in 1981?
A head-scratcher to say the least! Two young men from the state of Texas are signed as free agents and the key to Cowboy success on defense in 1981. Wilson begins the year starting at left corner, but is replaced in the line-up in week five by rookie Everson Walls. Dennis Thurman replaces Aaron Mitchell at right corner, and though he does not have excellent speed, Thurman is tenacious and plays outstanding.
The new starting free safety is Michael Downs, and he displays excellent range, and the ability to read a quarterback and intercept. Film study of the Dallas secondary shows us that though Charlie Waters has virtually no speed left, he can still make a tackle, and is never out of position. He is the glue to help the youngsters with his savvy and experience. Dallas finishes first in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 51.8 in 1981.
Thanksgiving Day and of course with family to watch the Cowboys take on a Chicago Bear team in disarray, yet a team with toughness. Walter Payton carries the ball 19 times for 112 yards in the first half. Keep the ball away from Danny White, and the high-powered Cowboy offense and maybe, just maybe an upset road victory for Chicago? Second-half slight defensive line adjustments for Dallas as Payton again carries 19 times, but only for 67 yards. The most impressive Cowboy on the field is Michael Downs.
No, he is not Ed Reed or Willie Wood, but the lean Texan takes correct pursuit angles and takes Sir Walter down time and time again. Walls is not involved in defending the run as much, yet he does not shy away from contact. Kicker John Roveto delivers a victory for Dallas with his inability to make a kick. John Roveto is the Bears kicker, as Dallas escapes 10-9. The win is part of the Cowboy second-half resurgence in the NFC East standings. After six weeks the Eagles are 6-0, Dallas is 4-2, NYG is 3-3, Cardinals 2-4, and 'Skins 1-5. Do the math based upon the final standings and we see Philadelphia fading, the Cowboys go 8-2, and NYG 6-4 to earn a wild-card berth.
Now back to the playoff game against the Buccaneers as you have had all the background you need. Doug Williams completes just 3 of 13 for 48 yards in the first half, he throws two interceptions and is sacked once. Tampa Bay gains some on the ground, but not near enough to control the game. Second half Williams completes 7 of 16 for 139 yards, again throws 2 interceptions, and is sacked three times. He finishes with a passer rating of 18.1.
The Cowboy offense sure contributed to the 38-0 win, but a play-off shut-out? Wow! Too Tall Jones is the visual many think of when you see photos or watch the film, and the Pro Bowl-bound left defensive end played a whale of a game, and he sure had help from the rest of the front seven. The difference though was a secondary that never let Williams find his groove with his strong arm and deep passing. Everson Walls led the league in interceptions in the regular season with 11.
While he is not Night Train Lane or Lem Barney as a rookie exploding on the scene....the smooth striding youngster is one of the best ever at playing the ball in flight. The Eternally Stupid Putrid Network failed to give him credit a couple weeks back in the story on Diggs, but he was the key cog in the Dallas defensive wheel in 1981.
The surprising Giants hard-fought wild card win over the Eagles took them to Candlestick where they were overwhelmed by the Niners, thus setting up a showdown for the ages. Closing this weeks column is a comment on Mr. Seth Walder, who has a title on analytics for ESPN. He predicted the total score for the upcoming game between Washington and New York as 54-31. You best be right Mr. Walder, 'cause if you're not, "I'm coming, and hell is coming with me...you hear, hell is coming with me".