In 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers were involved in lots of close games that left their fans on the verge of cardiac arrest. They started 2010 in the exact same fashion.
Steelers fans knew that the first 4 games were going to be difficult. Ben Roethlisberger would not be able to play due to suspension, and young Dennis Dixon would be forced into a starting role. However, they didn’t expect things to be quite this taxing.
As we all expected, Bruce Arians tried to keep the game plan simple for Dixon. He limited the number and type of pass plays, and he handed the ball to the running backs early and often. However the Falcons anticipated as much and stacked the defensive line to stop the run, and they challenged Dennis Dixon to beat them with his arm. Dixon’s response to that challenge was adequate, but not stellar.
Dixon ended the game with 236 yards passing. He had no touchdowns, one interception, and a 81.6 QB rating. He missed a few wide open receivers, but overall, it wasn’t a bad performance for only his second NFL start.
By comparison, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, threw for very similar numbers. He had 252 passing yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. Moreover, his QB rating for the game was only 67.6. So by that measure, Dixon did better than Ryan.
Nevertheless, some Steelers fans were calling for Charlie Batch to be put into the game. I don’t understand the logic of that. The only way for a young quarterback to develop is for him to play through difficult situations. Does anyone else remember how bad young Terry Bradshaw looked? Or young Ben Roethlisberger? Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, and many other young quarterbacks in recent years have struggled early on. But their teams all had the patience and foresight to stick with them. And wisely, that’s exactly what Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians did with Dennis Dixon.
Just like the Steelers did when Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie, they relied on the running game and the defense to help out the young quarterback. And both the running game and the defense delivered.
Both teams’ defenses played a tough game. Neither team was able to score a touchdown in regulation. Instead, they spent 4 quarters exchanging field goals.
The Steelers had a chance to win the game late in regulation, when Troy Polamalu intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and gave the Steelers great field position. Jeff Reed attempted a 40 yard field goal with :43 seconds remaining in the game. Unfortunately, the kick went wide right, and the game went into overtime.
Atlanta won the coin toss and got the ball first in overtime. But like they had in regulation, the Steelers’ defense stopped Atlanta cold. Atlanta was forced to punt. Then on their very first play in overtime, the Steelers handed the ball to Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall found a hole and scampered 50 yards for a touchdown. Steelers win.
It may not have been the prettiest game, but it was a win. And there were lots of good signs in the win. The running game looked great. The defense looked great. Hines Ward looked great. Troy Polamalu looked great. And the offensive line looked great. That’s right, the offensive line. It’s been a long time since Steelers fans have been able to say that.
So the Steelers are 1-0. With both Cincinnati and Cleveland losing, the Steelers stand alone atop the AFC North. Not a bad start for a team that is without their franchise quarterback.
Here we go Steelers. Here we go!
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