Week 10: Outcoached and Outplayed

Patriots 45, Cleveland 7

Summary: Summary of what? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.

The key moment: I’m glad you asked about this. Last week, I went on a work trip and the car I rented had an actual key, the kind you stick into the ignition and turn in order to get the ignition going. What is this, 1873?

Happiness level (scale of 1-to-10): “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” — Albert Einstein

Since the Cleveland Browns had a bye this week, I want to talk about the absolutely amazing overtime period between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions. It was an absolutely beautiful display of hideous football, one of the best displays I’ve ever seen. The game was in Pittsburgh, a cold rain was falling, a confused crowd of Steelers fans were trying to figure out what was going on, someone should write an opera about it.

The Lions got the ball first and moved into Steelers territory. That dream ended with a sack and a holding penalty on the same play.

Then the Steelers got the ball, and their quarterback Mason Rudolph — ah, our old friend Mason — completed a pass to Diontae Johnson, who broke free and raced 36 yards … and fumbled the ball away.

That led to the Lions getting the ball back close to midfield, and led by Jared Goff, they went on an erratic, meandering, sputtering, 35-yard drive thanks to a pretty shaky roughing-the-passer penalty, a dropped interception and another holding penalty. That set up Ryan Santoso’s 48-yard field goal attempt, which we obviously knew he was going to miss (these being the Lions) but could never have predicted just how badly he would miss it. The ball fell like 10 yards short.

To be fair to him, the conditions were bad and Heinz Field is famously bad for longish field goals.

But to be unfair to him, it was maybe the worst kick I’ve ever seen. The typical sound for when an NFL kicker connects with the football is something like “THUMP!” or “WHOMP!” or “KAPOW!” or some other word from the 1960s Batman TV show. This one sounded like, “SQUISH!” It was really something.

That gave the Steelers the ball back, and this led to an even funnier moment than the field goal — on second and six from the Pittsburgh 42, the ball was snapped like 10 feet over Rudolph’s head. This, I have to say, was when I realized we were watching something very special.

Back came Goff. I have to admit … I’d kind of lost track of Jared Goff. I remember when he was the first pick in the NFL draft and then, he was, like, good, right? Like he made a couple of Pro Bowls. He led the Rams to a couple of big seasons. True, he was a horror show in that unwatchable Super Bowl from a couple of years ago, but I mean, he got a team to the Super Bowl. I wasn’t paying especially close attention to him, but I just assumed he was good.

And now, holy cow, what happened? I realize playing for the Lions — much like playing for the Browns — can wreck a person but, sheesh, the guy looks like he just got off a bus in the wrong city. Anyway, he threw a pass that should have been caught but wasn’t because these are the Lions, and they punted the ball away to the Steelers, who obviously committed a holding penalty.

And then, with 1:37 left, the Steelers slowly, methodically, painfully pushed the ball up field with short passes, and they somehow got the ball all the way to the Detroit 39 yard line with 15 seconds left. From there, it would have been a 57-yard field goal in the cold and rain and Pittsburgh of it all … which is virtually no chance. So in their infinite wisdom, they decided to throw a one-yard pass to Pat Friermuth to make it just a 56-yard field goal, which is equally no chance, but Friermuth ended the drama by fumbling the ball away. He wouldn’t have gotten out of bounds even if he didn’t fumble. It was the very definition of a bad plan poorly executed.

I loved it all so much. This was the rare game where neither team deserved to win, and neither team did. Sometimes there is justice in this lawless world.

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