Lots not to like two days before Christmas in Pittsburgh, but here are my top 5 (and bear in mind, I wasn't at this game, but was watching from home):
1. First-drive punt. OK, so Carolina actually had a bit of momentum. The Panthers are moving the ball, it's 0-0, and they get to Pittsburgh's 32 on the first drive of the game. It's fourth-and-5. I understand it's too far for a field goal, that you just don't hit 50-yard field goals at Heinz Field that often (3-for-15 on the most recent 15 tries, as a good graphic pointed out on NFL Network).
But how do you not go for it there, John Fox? How do you not try for points, knowing how bad your offense is? Instead, Fox stuck to the conservative tendencies that run so deep in his bloodstream, punting. Carolina couldn't down the ball correctly, so Pittsburgh got it at its own 20 (only a 12-yard gain in field position) -- and broke off a 36-yard run on its first play.
Fox seemed to admit this mistake when he faced the very same situation on the next drive -- and then went for it, down only 3-0. That didn't work, either -- but at least at that point, he was trying. By then, though, the Steelers were rolling, and it was already too late.
2. Joe Theismann. Ohmigosh, I had forgotten what it sounded like to hear Theismann for a full game. Does anyone in any TV booth talk more and say less? I liked Matt Millen -- including his line about Jonathan Stewart ("That's a 100 percent USDA man".) I can't remember a thing Theismann said, except he always seemed to be talking and he usually seemed to be apologizing for Jimmy Clausen.
3. Jimmy Clausen. Speaking of Clausen, how inept was he? He had little help, as usual, but his split-second decisions were awful. He kept holding onto the ball and getting sacked, or checking down and not taking shots downfield, or taking an occasional shot but overthrowing it. As I've written before, he simply is not the long-term answer here, and the sooner everyone realizes this, the better.
4. Panthers' pass defense. Ben Roethlisberger had 259 yards passing -- in the first half! He shredded Carolina's defense, most beautifully on that pass to the slot receiver when he caught Carolina in an ill-timed safety blitz for a TD. The Panthers' only good pass defense came when Charles Johnson -- definitely the defensive MVP of this team -- sacked or harassed Big Ben. Otherwise, the ball was going to be complete.
5. Steve Smith. The Panthers actually did try to get him the ball in this game. Smith dropped one 20-yard pass (which would have been called back by an unrelated penalty anyway), caught a couple of short ones and had yet another game without a TD or anything close to it. It's become routine by now.
5 weeks ago