Mark Madden: Temper enthusiasm over Steelers’ victory
Refreshing sports notes all night, party every day! You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy …
• The Steelers finally won. But it was against a team picked by most to finish last in the NFC South. They faced a backup quarterback, albeit one who was red-hot. They nearly blew a 20-point lead. The Steelers are 1-1-1 when many thought they would be 3-0, and they have a point differential of minus-2. You almost can’t be any more .500. So the time for rejoicing is not yet upon us.
• If the Steelers go on to bigger and better, Vance McDonald’s punishing double-shot stiff arm on the way to a 75-yard first-quarter touchdown might be remembered as a moment of coalescence. Poor Chris Conte. The Tampa Bay safety left the game with a knee injury. The vibrations traveled south from his head with damaging effect.
• The Steelers committed 13 penalties at Tampa Bay after 12 vs. Kansas City and 12 at Cleveland. They are the NFL’s most penalized team in terms of infractions and yardage. Special-teams jabroni Darrius Heyward-Bey took a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at a crucial fourth-quarter juncture Monday. Jordan Dangerfield drew a flag on the opening kickoff. The Steelers’ discipline and focus are nonexistent. How can the distractions and turmoil not be contributing to that?
• Coty Sensabaugh is somebody else’s fourth-round pick. He has been cut so many times, it’s a wonder he hasn’t bled to death. He started at corner ahead of homegrown first-round pick Artie Burns on Monday. That doesn’t bode well for Burns, nor does getting beat badly for a 24-yard touchdown and a 51-yard pass in that game despite limited snaps.
• Le’Veon Bell’s considerable skills duly noted, there are lots of reasons to not trade for him or sign him when he hits free agency. Given his absence from the Steelers and his sideshow antics in the interim, it’s reasonable to wonder how much Bell loves football and if he’ll be dedicated to his craft once he gets all that guaranteed money. Bell’s toxicity outweighs his talent. Here’s betting Bell is never again the player he was while with the Steelers.
• James Conner isn’t as good as Bell. But he’s good enough. His inspired downhill running in the fourth quarter at Tampa put the result to bed. Conner competes. Bell gets hurt.
• JuJu Smith-Schuster had better stats than Antonio Brown in each of the Steelers’ three games. If that continues, it will create problems. Brown will ultimately super-kick Smith-Schuster through the barbershop window. No one out-pizzas the Hut, and no one out-stats Brown.
• Kicker Chris Boswell is already a problem. Boswell got big money, but so far this year, he has missed three of four field goals and two of 11 extra points. That subpar performance can’t continue indefinitely. Kickers are disposable.
• Here’s the “logical” progression for situations such as Brown missing mandatory meetings yet still playing the next game: Seattle safety Earl Thomas is in the last year of his deal, so he skipped two practices last week but still played Sunday.
He’ll get fined, but it will be a small fraction of his game check. Said Thomas, “I need to make sure my body is 100. I’m invested in myself. If they (were) invested in me, I would be out there practicing.”
NFL owners have long screwed the players through lopsided CBAs. But this is crazy: A player under contract making his own work schedule. Why should Thomas ever practice?
• New England is 1-2. Eventually, the Patriots will hit a wall and not be good. What if it’s this year, and the Steelers aren’t good enough to take advantage?
• Green Bay’s Clay Matthews keeps sacking the quarterback and keeps getting flagged for using all of his body weight to fall on the QB, which used to be the preferred method. Matthews’ sacks are just good tackles. Wanting to protect quarterbacks is understandable. But don’t make football farcical.
• Tiger Woods won a tournament. It wasn’t a major. Good for Tiger. He shook off serial adultery, consorting with porn stars and addiction issues to win for the first time in five years. It’s amazing what some get forgiven for and some don’t. Woods’ triumph was a victory for Calibinasians everywhere and for Nike.
• This season, Pirates attendance dropped by more than 400,000 from last year and by more than a million from when they won 98 games in 2015. That’s startling, especially given this year’s marginal success. It’s more confirmation the fans lost trust when they blew up that 98-win team by way of cutting payroll and maximizing profit. That trust will not easily be restored, if it ever is. (Augmenting a decent nucleus by spending more on talent would help, but that’s no option.)
• Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer got pulled in the middle of the Milwaukee half of the eighth Sunday in what was likely their final game as Pirates at PNC Park. Never before has such a convoluted salute been orchestrated for two mediocre talents. But it was “Fan Appreciation Day,” and the citizens seemed to appreciate Harrison and Mercer more than Michael Feliz’ bases-loaded wild pitch that, incredibly, plated all three runners. Now that’s wild.
• North Carolina football was 3-9 last season and was picked to finish at or near the bottom of the ACC’s Coastal Division this year. Pitt lost 38-35 at Carolina on Saturday, getting outscored 17-0 in the third quarter. Same old Pitt: Worse in the second half, no visible halftime adjustments, rotten defense. It should be another nail in Pat Narduzzi’s coaching coffin, except he’s signed through 2024.
• Rookie Juuso Riikola is the sensation of Penguins training camp. The Finn has scored twice in exhibition play. Every facet of his game has impressed. But the best he can be is the seventh defenseman. Teddy Blueger is NHL-ready. But he already has been cut. He’s the Penguins’ No. 7 center. That’s impressive depth.
• The Philadelphia Flyers have a new Muppet-looking mascot. He’s called Gritty. Not Skillsy, or Skatesy, or Winny, or Cuppy. But Gritty. Rhymes with … uh, pretty. (Except he isn’t. He looks like an even uglier Scott Hartnell.) Have you ever seen the Flyers win the Cup?
• Have you seen a sport called pickleball? It’s tennis played with square, clunky paddles and what appears to be a Wiffle Ball on a reduced-size court. So it’s tennis with a lot less speed, skill and athleticism. Pickleball is a metaphor for America. Everything is dumbed down and made easier.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on 105.9 FM.