It's a bird, it's a plane....
So yeah, there's still one game left in the regular season but it's against the Browns and basically fuck them, ya know? It's a meaningless game more or less, other than seeing if Cleveland will try to retaliate for James Harrison KO'ing half their receiver corps in the last meeting between the two teams. Now seems like a good time to look back and see how we got to this point.
This summer was one of great turmoil. Our franchise QB was suspended for penis related hijinx, our Super Bowl MVP wideout was traded to a conference rival for continually getting arrested for having blunts in his car when he would get pulled over for driving a pimped out SUV in a white neighborhood. The defense was old. Last but not least, last season was a disappointment in every sense of the world, as the team had several cupcake games scheduled and managed to piss away every one. Yes, dark times were ahead for our heroes to be sure.
Then a funny thing happened.
The defense, despite being a year older, came back looking like the unit that absolutely shut down the league two years ago en route to winning a championship. Charlie Batch became the Dante Hicks of the team, he wasn't even supposed to still be here since the team signed Byron Leftwich to compete with Dennis Dixon for the first four Ben-less games. Dixon was going to get his chance to prove he was the QB in waiting, and Byron was a solid backup who already knew the system. That was until both got hurt, there was old Charlie (in all senses of the word) stepping in to hold it down. The team went 3-1 during that stretch, the only loss a close game to Baltimore that could have easily went either way. The bye week was next, and then Ben would be back. The worst was over, or so we thought.
Ben's return was quickly overshadowed by the NFL turning this season into the Year of the Fine, where borderline hits where met with massive fines or none at all depending on who was the hitter and who was the hit-ee. Some folks think the Steelers, and Harrison specifically, were being targeted. I think in retrospect it's clear that the league hasn't really thought things out more than "people are getting antsy watching headshots when evidence is starting to pour in showing that leads to dudes being all messed up later in life, so let's just start throwing fines out willy nilly". NFL conspiracy theories make as much sense as George W. Bush conspiracy theories. They really start to unravel when you consider the source is not nearly intelligent enough to plan what they get accused of.
Yet though, the team soldiers on. Where once we were wondering who would replace Santonio Holmes, we now have not one but three young WRs looking like they will be a unit to contend with for a long time. Mike Wallace obviously had the speed to be a deep threat, but he added to that by becoming a much better route runner. Now he does more than go deep, and if he makes one guy miss after the catch, no one is able to catch him. Sanders and Brown have gone from bottom of the depth chart/kick return guys to now arguably making the case that Hines Ward has been phased out of the offense. It sounds crazy, and he's still the guy who if it's 3rd and 7 he will run an 8 yard route and get you a first down, but watching the game unfold it's clear the young guys have found a groove and have taken over. To his credit, Ward's not having a tantrum over it like a lot of WRs would be in this position, especially one most likely HOF bound. A big reason Sanders and Brown are in a position to take over like they are now is because of what Ward taught them, and Hines seems to accept his new role of grizzled veteran going for one last big run for a title.
So here we are, 11-4 and able to wrap up the #2 seed and a bye when just a scant few months ago the sky was falling. Football. It's a hell of a sport.