game journal: broncos vs. steelers, 1/22/06

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Game Journal
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Point Spread: Denver -3
Over/Under: 41.5


We start with a dramatic intro read by...ex-NFL defensive end and current old man, Deacon Jones. I realize that, while I can discuss at length the relative merits of National League shortstops of the 1930's, my knowledge of football history does not begin until The Catch. But by all accounts, Deacon Jones was a stud. He does alright here, though he's no Don Cheadle. My favorite part comes when he slips in a completely gratuitous potshot at Peyton Manning.

Deacon Jones gives way to a live shot of Invesco Field in denver, where the fans are waving the least-intimidating props I've ever seen. Orange pom-poms don't make me think the Broncos are out for blood.

The normally-excited Phil Simms warns both teams to stay calm, and resist giving in to the excitement of being but oen game away from the Super Bowl. As a sequel to last week's pink shirt, Simms is wearing a pink tie.

Jim Nantz and Simms assert that Jake Plummer's critics are just waiting for him to stumble, and that they will continue to await his failures until he wins a Super Bowl. It's interesting that Plummer's name is associated with interceptions, because at the beginning of his career, he was known for his fourth-quarter excellence and frequent comebacks. Simms says that the Broncos love Plummer because he shuns publicity and media attention.

With all the attention given to Plummer's long hair and unruly beard during this post-season, I find it interesting that no one mentions that the look is a tribute to college teammate Pat Tillman, especially given the NFL's usual enthusiasm for any tie-ins with the military. Perhaps that's because Tillman is no longer an ideal hero for the war on terror, once the facts about his death, and the government's cover-up came out. And while Plummer might shun publicity, he didn't shy away from ripping the government's treatment of the Tillman story.

That was a digression.

UPS Game Points:

1) Box Office Blitz: Both teams are going to blitz a lot. "Box office blitz" was the best blitz-related phrase they could find? Is this because the Sundance Film Festival is going on in a neighboring state?

2) Pressure Cooker Kicker: A kicker might have to make an important kick, and "kicker" sounds like cooker".

Those Game Points were so bad, I'm sending some packages Fed Ex out of spite.

Sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein is wearing a leopard-print fur hat and a crazy, Kati Vol-esque scraf that looks like it's made out of Muppet. Her hair looks blonder than last week, but it might just be sunnier today. She tells us Jerome Bettis made a speech about getting him to the Super Bowl. Inspiring.

The team has added Armen Keteyian to the sideline, much to the delight of Simms. Armen tells us that Mike Holmgren made "the speech of the year" before the game, which consisted of...making fun of his players. Armen gives us excerpts:
"You defensive linemen from Cleveland, you're all busts."
"Todd Sauerbrun, no one wanted you."
"John Lynch, you're like 80 - why are you still playing?"
Reportedly this did not make anyone cry. Rather, it make them realize the "lack of respect" shown to Denver all year. Nantz agrees that the "lack of respect" message often works.

Five Broncos made it to the Pro Bowl, including the aforementioned Lynch. The Broncos were favored against the defending champs last week, and they're favored again today. Were any teams adequately respected this year? Maybe the 1-15 Texans? I can still imagine David Carr standing up in the locker room after the Reggie Bush Bowl and declaring, "Nobody gave us a chance at the first pick in the draft. What do you say now, unbelievers? Two and fourteen, baby!"

First Quarter

Denver wins the toss and elects to receive. CBS choose a horrendous angle for the kickoff, placing the camera at ground level on the 30-yard line. Maybe they were hoping for an onside kick?

The first play is a run which goes for little yardage. Jigar asserts that teams should always prepare for a run on the first play. He also predicts that the announcers will discuss Coach Shanahan's routine of scripting the first fifteen plays of the game, a routine Jigar questions. Do you really want to decide all fifteen in advance? And if that's a good idea, why stop at fifteen?

(Answer: Because Bill Walsh did it.)

The Broncos throw a successful screen pass to unfortunately-named tight end Jeb Putzier, and right on cue, Simms talks about the script. So great is the power of this fifteen-play script, according to Simms, Pittsburgh will have to play cautiously, out of reverence and awe. Plays 5-7 of the script are less successful, and Denver is forced to punt from midfield.

Pittsburgh starts at their own 8, and Big Ben comes out throwing. He hits Willie Parker for 8 and then Antwaan Randle El for 20. We learn that Big Ben wears #7 as a tribute to former Denver QB John Elway, and maybe because he secretly worries that he looks like a horse.

After this, Simms tells us that throwing early will be a key for the Steelers, in order to "settle down" their blitz. Somewhat paradoxically, he advises Denver to "bluff the blitz", seemingly playing into Pittsburgh's bitz-settling hands.

On 3rd-and-3, Champ Bailey arrives at the same time as a pass to Hines Ward, nearly intercepting the ball. Instead, he pops the ball straight up in the air where Ward, showing remarkable concentration, snags the pass and absorbs a huge hit from 80-year-old safety John Lynch. First down Steelers, and Ward jogs off the field smiling despite the collision.

Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is getting a lot of attention during the playoffs. I like him, both because he reliably calls wacky trick plays and because he looks like a less evolved version of head coach Bill Cowher, only with the ability to smile.

Pittsburgh hands off to Willie Parker AND IT'S A FUMBLE! The Broncos recover the ball at midfield AND IT'S A REPLAY CHALLENGE! (I win my challenge flag prediction, Jigar loses.) During the interminable replay discussion, Simms states that "the ground can cause a fumble, which shakes my very belief system to the core. Haven't I been hearing "The ground can't cause a fumble" my entire life? Before I get into any more existential despair, the referees report that Parker's forearm was down before the ball came loose, so the Steelers retain possessino, and the ground's ability to cause fumbles is a moot point.

Big Ben converts another third down with a pass to a receiver I've never heard of, named Nate Washington. (Ed. note: Later research reveals that this is his first career catch, so I am not so ignorant after all.) DB Foxworth of the Broncos seems to be making a lot of tackles, which probably indicates he is not covering his man very well.

Foxworth responds to my diss on the next third down, nearly intercepting a pass in the end zone. (Later research reveals this is the first time Nate Washington has broken up an attempted interception.) Jigar shows his editing awareness on the replay, noting a goateed bald man at the back of the end zone, captured in perfect focus, before the ball arrives. His sunglasses and total ignorance of the football game lead us to believe he is a Homeland Security agent, or an assassin hired to stop Jerome Bettis from reaching Detroit, by any means necessary.

Contrary to my expectations, Jeff Reed comes out and drills a 47-yard field goal for the Steelers, and it's 3-0. To his credit, Jigar thought Reed would make it.

All of the ads for also mention the AOL keyword ("Superbowl"). Is anyone still accessing the internet exclusively via AOL, and not using a browser? Wait, I don't actually want to know the answer to that question.

Harrison Ford in the Firewall trailer: "You get the money when I get my family!"
Harrison Ford in the Firewall producer's office: "You get a phoned-in performance when I get my money!"

Disaster strikes quickly for Denver, as Joey Porter sacks Plummer and forces a fumble. All-Space-Eater Team member Casey Hampton resembles a frantic manatee as he scrambles for the ball, but he recovers for Pittsburgh at Denver's 39. A 24-yard pass to Heath Miller takes the Steelers down to the 14, and two Bettis unsuccessful runs take us to the end of the quarter. Pittsburgh 3, Denver 0.

Second Quarter

That score holds up for exactly one play, as Big Ben connects with former 49er Cedric Wilson in the end zone, who does a nice job staying in bounds. That makes sense, since in San Francisco, his only problem was with getting out of bounds. A Steeler superfan in the stands deivers approximately 15 separate high fives in roughly 3.5 seconds, though it may have technically been 11 high fives and two high tens. Pittsburgh 10, Denver 0.

Reed gives Denver a sporting chance by sending the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Sicne the penalty for doing so is unduly harsh, Denver takes over on their own 40. They run twice for little yardage, and then Plummer finds Tatum Bell in the flat. He appears to have the first down easily, but Troy Polamalu makes an amazing ankle tackle after being leveled by a blocker, and stops him just short. Fourth down.

Shanahan decides to go for it, which is quite a bold move at the 13:32 mark of the second quarter. He might as well have taken his pants off, laid his junk out on the sideline, and called for a measurement. The decision nearly blows up in his face, but Mike Anderson makes an excellent second effort to get the crucial yard.

As a reward for his hard work, Plummer goes to Anderson on two consecutive plays, and he gains 20 yards. The Putz hauls in another pass, and the Broncos are down to the 12.

Denver ends up facing a 3rd-and-10, and they hand it off to Anderson. This strikes us as a bit of a wussy call. Don't you have to throw the ball and try for the end zone? Even if Plummers gets sacked, the field goal is a gimme. Simms likes the call. The field goal is good, and the score is 10-3.

Potential controversy arises on the next Steeler drive. Cedric Wilson makes a diving catch for 17 yards, but Jim Nantz thinks Shanahan is going to challenge the call. It's clearly a completion, however. Nantz is disappointed at Shanahan's reluctance, but then IT'S A CHALLENGE! Except, no, IT'S A DELAY OF GAME PENALTY! Wait, actually, Denver called time out. Simms teases his boyfriend: "You gettin' excited about the challenge, Jim?"

At the break, we notice that, unlike last week's mustached mini-pic, Jake Plummer's mini-picture now features the full beard.

Denver's PA system plays insulting "wah wah waaah" cartoon music and other sound effects after incompletions and before third downs. I wonder if that motivates opposing quarterbacks, as Pittsburgh has done quite well on third down so far. The Indianapolis third down tolling-bell sound didn't seem to faze Big Ben either.

Mike Anderson uniform update: Two other Broncos, Darrent and D.J. Williams, have their full names on the back of their jerseys. At 15 letters, "Darrent Williams" is the longest uniform name I've seen this year. However, there seems to be a good reason for the Williams boys to distnguish themselves. It's still not clear why Mike Anderson displays both names.

The sound effects fail as Hines Ward makes a nice catch on 3rd-and-10, for 21 yards. Three plays later, Randle El takes a screen pass ten yards on 3rd-and-9. If this game were being played by Canadian Football League rules, the Denver defense would be doing great.

After a false start penalty, Big Ben scrambles for six. Willie Parker gets stuffed on the next play, setting up another 3rd-and-Long. Pittsburgh takes a time out, knowing they've got Denver right where they want them.
At the two-minute warning, Verron Haynes (the greatest Verron in NFL history) catches a first down pass at the 3. After the break, Jerome Bettis takes it in for the score. 17-3, Steelers. Thanks to the sideline heroes carrying parabolic microphones, we get to hear Jerome Bettis scream "Aaaaaagh!" quite clearly. Gene thinks you could have an automatic robotic machine capture sound better. (Nerd.)

The Bettis parents celebrate in the stands. As far as I can tell, the only Steeler fans in the stands are the high-fiving Superfan group, and the Bettis parents entourage.

I make a note about how it doesn't seem like Denver is playing that badly; it's more like Pittsburgh is playing great. Jake Plummer immediately makes me look foolish by throwing a weak pass that CB Ike Taylor picks off at the 38. Simms really lays into Plummer, and the director rubs it in by sticking the ShameCam on Plummer as he walks off the field. The ShameCam will stay on Plummer for the remainder of the half.

The Steelers change things up by getting first downs, on first down. Parker runs for 24 yards in two plays against the stunned Bronco defense. Pittsburgh is moving at will, but they stay calm enough to intentionally run the clock down as far as possible. I'm not sure that's necessary, given how terrified Shanahan must be at the prospect of letting Plummer throw more passes this half.

On the next play, Big Ben spots a blitz and calls an audible at the line of scrimmage. He actually stops, announces the play by pointing to Bettis, then leans over to Bettis and points to exactly where Bettis should run. Denver misses these subtle signals, and Bettis runs it in for another TD. But - there's a flag on the play. Hines Ward lines up incorrectly, and the play comes back.

Will Pittsburgh have to settle for three? No. Ward gets instant redemption for his gaffe by snagging a pass at the back of the end zone. 24-3. Big Ben sprints to the sidelines and celebrates like Michael Scott in improv class, shooting off his invisible guns. On replay, the Denver corner had a pretty good chance at an interception, but, you know, didn't.

Simms harangues the CB, Nick Ferguson, for missing the pass. Jim Nantz opts for more gentle criticism, stating only that, "Ferguson maybe mistimed that jump." Nantz is like the nice dad who doesn't yell at you when you mess up. Instead, he's just very disappointed, and somehow it's way worse that way.

Jigar's editor's eye notices an overweight Denver superfan seated behind the end zone. He has a bright orange jersey, a matching foam cowboy hat, and a very sad frown.

The ShameCam finally leaves Plummer and settles on Shanahan instead. As he grimaces and blinks quickly, Gene comments that this is how a real man cries. In his pre-halftime interview, Shanahan says that the Broncos need to control the ball better, like, no shit. The reporter should have come right out and asked, "Mike, is the game over?"

Halftime Score: Pittsbrugh 24, Denver 3.


Montage: Wussy pom-poms; Denver's frightening horse-headed mascot runs out with the flag; Ward points; Bettis smiles; Shanahan frets; Bettis runs for a tD; Ward catches a TD pass; Cowher grimaces; AFC trophy; Horse-head rallies the crowd; Superfan winds up for high-fives; Big Ben hits his chest; jets fly overhead; Wilson catches a TD pass; The Putz runs with the ball; Bettis yells, hugs Ward; Deacon Jones yells, "We're the ghosts of the Super Bowl! And the loser goes home!" The AFC trophy stands in a sea of flames.

(By the way, when Deacon Jones said that the loser was going home? He meant Denver.)

There are two very pretty women in the stands holding a sign that reads "Coolest Broadcasters Simms & Nantz". They look like sisters, or extremely fraternal twins. One is in red, and the other wears pink, the official color of Phil Simms. Their outfits consist of fuzzy peacoats, scarves, and matching fuzzy hats. I wonder if Simms denies them, they'd settle for hooking up with Armen Keteyian. You know there are Keteyian groupies out there.

Third Quarter

Pittsburgh receives the kickoff, and I am shocked to remember that Denver actually won the toss. Giving the Steelers the ball doesn't seem fair at all. The football gods try to remedy this, forcing a Willie Parker fumble, but it rolls harmlessly out of bounds.

Bonnie Bernstein tells us that, in his halftime speech, Bill Cowher told his team that they need to play like it's 0-0. I check my notes. Last week, when Pittsburgh was also leading at halftime, Cowher told them they needed to pretend like the game was just beginning. Luckily, Cowher has two weeks to figure out a new way to rephrase this exact same concept, in case the Steelers are leading at halftime of the Super Bowl.

On the other side of the field, Denver WR Rod Smith says that the Bronces "have dug themselves a hole. We have to dig our way out." I think digging would lead to a deeper hole, personally. Maybe they'll dig up.

The lazy CBS Poll question is, "Who will win the Super Bowl?" AOL users overwhelmingly support Denver. Ask something more subjective: "Who's cuter, Phil or Jim?" "What is more terrifying - the Broncos mascot, or the thought of seeing Jerome Bettis shirtless?"

Right, football. The Steelers move the ball consistently, converting two more third down plays along the way, in a manner reminsicent of the game against the Colts. After taking five-and-a-half minutes off the clock, they face 4th-and-3 at the 35. Deciding that it's too far for a field goal, Cowher takes an intentional delay of game penalty, and sends in the punter. I don't think Cowher is really pretending it's 0-0.

Punter Chris Gardocki comes out, and we get the obligatory mention of his no-blocked-punts streak. Denver shows they're serious by sending out a ringer to field punts, shovel man Rod Smith. He lets the punt go, and the Steelers down it at the two.

Denver takes over with nine minutes left in the quarter, technically still participants in the game. Their first play is a screen pass to Mike Anderson, who nearly gets tripped up for a safety. To me, it seems dangerous to throw passes to a guy five yards behind the goal line. On second down, Rod Smith digs deep and drops a pass. On third down, they repeat the screen pass/near safety play from first down, and it's time to punt from their own end zone. Randle El takes it back to the Denver 39.

That whole sequence followed the Colts game very closely. Pittsburgh moves the ball, punts from inside the forty, downs it at the goal line, almost forces a safety, and then runs the punt back deep into opposing territory. In that game, Pittsburgh scored a touchdown afterward.

Two runs to Parker leaves Pittsburgh with 3rd-and-4. It looks like they're going to convert, but Champ Bailey drills Ward and makes him drop the pass. I think punting from the opponent's 33 is needlessly conservative, but it worked out pretty well last time for Pittsburgh. They repeat the same strategy, taking a delay of game and then dropping in a short punt. Gardocki still has never had a punt blocked, by the way.

#29 makes an amazing acrobatic save to keep the ball out of the end zone, and the ball is spotted at the 3 - AND IT'S A REPLAY CHALLENGE! Initially, it seems desperate to risk a time out on a ball-spotting call, but 17 yards is a pretty big deal here. The replay pretty clearly indicates #29 just barely touched the goal line, so we predict a reversal. Sarcastic Denver PA guys play "The Waiting" as the ref looks under the replay hood, which is funny, but I'm not sure you want to piss off the officials when it's the home team's challenge. Then again, no one seems to be affected by the music and sound effects choices at this stadium, and the ref is no exception. IT'S REVERSED!

The end result of this call is that Pittsburgh gained a whopping twelve yards of field position on that exchange. Given that converting the fourth down would effectively put the game out of reach (if it wasn't already), it seems like taking a shot there might have been a good move.

GRAPHIC: Denver hasn't had a first down in over 20 minutes of game time. OK, that may have played into Cowher's decision to punt.

Alexander doesn't help Plummer, dropping a sure first down pass on the first play. Plummer hits Smith for nine, and it's 3rd-and-1. Plummer gets flushed out of the pocket, and scrambles right. He looks like he could run for the first fairly easily, but instead he lofts a pass downfield to Smith, for 32 yards. Plummer deserves a lot of credit for this one, though Simms rips him for passing up the sure two-yard run and risking an interception. I have to disagree. When you're down by three touchdowns, you aren't going to make a comeback without some long completions.

I should also note that Plummer has escaped four or five sacks so far today. His interception was terrible, but given the pass rush and the receivers dropping passes, conditions aren't ideal for Jake.

Plummer hits The Putz for nine, and then Denver takes a time out. It looks like a result of miscommunication, but maybe they were planning strategy, since the next play is a 30-yard bomb to Ashley Lelie for a TD. The referee's TD signal happens about five seconds after the ball is caught cleanly. It's not even a controversial play; the ref just took his sweet time. According to Simms, Pittsburgh was playing a "safe" defense on the play, which indicates that they aren't quite up on the definition of "safe". Simms also says Lelie was "getting on the safety". Perhaps that's how Denver will get back in the game: sexually harassing Pittsburgh's defense. 24-10.

Before the game, Horse-head drove a tiny car through a yellow-and-gold bus. That seems like one of those stories of hubris you always read the day after a team suffers an enormous upset loss.

There is 3:36 remaining in the quarter when Pittsburgh takes over on the 29. They've been moving the ball, but they probably need to score again to give themselves a cushion and fully break Denver's collective spirit.

Big Ben comes out throwing, hooking up with former 49er Cedric Wilson on a 30-yard completion. CBS has a great replay that shows Old Man Lynch blitzing, and Bettis annihilating him on a block. If Jerome Bettis were a fighter plane, he'd get to put a John Lynch silhouette on the side of his helmet. The Steelers are at the 41, and Cowher is salivating over the chance to down a punt inside the 10.

An injury report sounds like bad excuses for getting out of high school P.E. John Lynch hurt his knee getting blocked. Jerome Bettis is struggling with asthma. Jigar can't believe the Broncos haven't tried to exploit the allergen factor, scattering pollen on the sideline or releasing a bag of cats in the Steeler locker room.

A holding penalty pushes the Steelers back ten yards, but Big Ben makes up for it immediately. He finds Wilson for 15, and Domonique Foxworth again makes the tackle. Pittsburgh's picking on him, and it seems to be paying off big. On 3rd-and-2 from the 33, a short pass to Randle El gets the first down, as the Broncos decide to give him a five-yard cushion. Maybe they figured they were helpess against the third down might of Pittsburgh.

The quarter ends with a one-yard Bettis run. Get him his inhaler during the time out!

Pittsburgh 24, Denver 10.

Fourth Quarter

Good news for Denver: They won the third quarter, 70. Bad news for Denver: Pittsburgh held the ball for 11 of 15 minutes.

Homoerotic Sports Commentary, With Foot Fetish: Simms on Bettis - "You look at that body, and he's just so big - but then you look at those quick little feet."

Bettis did get his inhaler! He runs for seven yards on the first play. However, Denver holds firm on third down, as De La Salle grad D.J. Williams sacks Big Ben at the 24. Jeff Reed kicks a 42-yard field goal, and it's 27-10.

Denver now needs to score three times, but they had to know it was going to take at least 24 second-half points all along. Almost worse than the three points is the realization that, given Denver's desperate need for a stop, they couldn't stop Pittsburgh from running another five minutes off the clock. It's almost to the point where they have to consider an onside kick after their next score.

Las Vegas Update: Though there are miniscule implications for the point spread (Pittsburgh is up 20 points against the spread), that field goal makes it a one-possession game for the over/under of 41.5 points.

Adams, the Denver kick returner, helps things along with a long return out to the 43. It would have been more exciting had CBS not been using their overhead camera, which had trouble following the ballcarrier and destroyed any sense of perspective.

Plummer's very first pass is intercepted, on a nice play from Larry Foote. Jim Nantz says "picked off" right after the ball leaves Plummer's hands, and again sounds extremely disappointed. On the sidelines, Shanahan slowly wipes his face, twice. I used to do that at Squelch meetings when certain people repeatedly made unfunny jokes. Mike Shanahan and I might be poor poker players.

The Denver defense holds on the next possession, as Bettis looks tired. He seems to be fine for maybe ten carries per game, but the man is not in good shape at all. I think that was the unspoken reason behind his killer fumble against Indianapolis - he was exhausted.

Denver goes all out trying for a punt block, but in case you've forgotten, Chris Gardocki NEVER gets blocked. Bow down to Gardocki! Denver fair catches at the 15. The interception ends up costing the Broncos 28 yards and two minutes, which is not all that bad. Especially considering how much crap Plummer is going to get about it later.

With 11:30 left, Jigar and I attempt to predict the game's final score. I say 30-10. Jigar goes with 34-13. At this point, the only drama is based on the over/under.

Denver moves the ball a little bit, but the clock is running. Plummer avoids three sacks in a row, scrambling for yardage and connecting on a crazy shovel pass to Tatum Bell. He's definitely going to get hammered in the papers for the fumble and the two interceptions, but Plummer has dodged 5-10 sacks, and his receivers have been dropping passes. This (imminent) loss isn't his fault.

Nantz mentions that RB Ron Dayne is in the game, which everyone should know means, "Pass". Plummer connects with Lelie for 40 yards. Lelie makes another impressive catch, as he really was not especially open on that play. No word as to whether he was "getting on the cornerback".

Plummer escapes yet another sack, this time surviving long enough to draw a pass interference penalty, and Denver is down to the 9. We notice how much more excited the referee sounds while announcing penalties that benefit the home team. His voice gets higher after announcing how much penalty yardage, but before saying which down it is.

After each team trades five-yard penalties, Plummer runs to the 3. Simms remixes a Burger King slogan, telling us that, "sometimes, you gotta pay attention to the rules." Mike Anderson takes it in on the next play. Nantz's call: "Handoff to Anderson, and they don't - yes they do. Touchdown." With 7:58 to go, the score is 27-17, and the Over wins.

Sauerbrun kicks off out of bounds, screwing the Broncos out of another 15-20 yards. This is nearly as bad a play as Plummer's second INT. John Lynch continues his tough day, dropping a potential interception on the first pass. Maybe he was afraid Bettis might tackle him.

We get a weird "Eye Box", showing Mike Anderson simultaneously standing in the end zone after his TD, and sitting on the bench. He's not doing anything in either shot.

Pittsburgh comes up short on 3rd down, and it's Gardocki time! Nantz informs us that Gardocki has never had a punt blocked, due to his "two-step action". How many steps are other punters taking? I wonder if the quick punting hurts his distance. It's impossible to tell, since he's been punting from midfield or closer all game, intentionally kicking it only 30 yards or so. And thanks to Saurbrun, he'll be punting from midfield again. Adams calls for a fair catch at the 20.

So, Denver has six minutes left, down ten points. It's a tough task ahead of them, but I didn't think they'd get this close in the first place.

Incompletion on first down. Plummer hits Smith for seven yards on the next play. On third down, Brett Keisel makes an excellent play to sack Plummer, beating his blocker and getting a ninja death grip on Plummer's jersey. On fourth-and-10, Keisel gets him again and Plummer fumbles. There's a ridiculous scrum for the ball, ridiculous because Pittsburgh gets the ball no matter who recovers, since it's fourth down. Former 49er Travis Kirschke ends up with the ball at the 17.

I write, "Game Over" in my notebook.

As the Steelers hand off to Bettis over and over, CBS gets down to the important business of fellating the Steelers management. Someone in the stands has a huge photo of their former owner, Art Rooney, "The Chief". Bettis runs for six. Bill Cowher wants to win for The Chief's multi-millionaire son. Bettis runs for five. Simms tells a story about the Rooneys giving two fans a ride to the stadium for last year's Championship Game. Bettis runs down to the 2.

CBS shows a montage of historical Pittsburgh glory which conspicuously does not show Terry Bradshaw. is that because he works for Fox? Before we can muse further, Big Ben runs it in, and it's 34-17. He does not shoot imaginary guns after this score. Denver fans leave.

Denver has three minutes left, and they know it's over. Plummer is still getting chased out of the pocket on every play. Tatum Bell runs for a first down and nearly gets killed by free safety Chris Hope. Hope yaps at him, Bell looks scared, I wonder if they've noticed the insurmountable Pittsburgh lead.

There is a great deal of talk about Jerome Bettis "going home" to Detroit, his hometown. jigar doesn't think he's been back there for fifteen years.

Denver appears content to let the clock run out. Pittsburgh prepares for the traditional Gatorade dump, which is going to be fun for Cowher, since it's 32 degrees outside. George Allen caught pneumonia and died after a Gatorade bath. Cowher looks pretty hale and hearty, but you know, so did Jim Henson. Simms is either talking about the coach receiving the bath, or post-game man-on-man sexual encounters when he says, "You stand there and take it." In the end, Pittsburgh lets Cowher stay dry, so the players are either quite mature or rightfully terrified of their coach.

Final score: Pittsburgh 34, Denver 17.

Our final AFC fan sign is "Cowher Beats Shanahan".

The AFC Championship trophy goes to Old Rooney, who is too old and weak to hold it. Bill Cowher is smiling for the first time this season - yet he still looks a little angry. Big Ben gives his offensive line all the credit for his stellar performance, making him the anti-Manning. Bettis talks about Detroit, and promises to "show Ben the town". I think the NFL Network should produce a reality show that's just Roethlisberger and Bettis hitting bars all over Pittsburgh.

Shanahan refuses to make excuses, not for game plans, injuries, or Jake Plummer's cold, which no one has mentioned until now. He says they got beat, compliments Pittsburgh, and says he'll be rooting for them in two weeks. Still no tears. That's a man right there.

Pittsburgh has now defeated the top three AFC seeds, which is pretty amazing. I fully expect them to be favored in the Super Bowl, regardless of opponent. The player of the game has to be Big Ben, unless it's Joey Porter, who I didn't write about much, but he was in Plummer's face the whole game. I'd like to see more coverage of his recovery from a gunshot wound and less about Jerome's homecoming, but fat chance of that. Way to go Steelers, way to go millionaire Rooneys.

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