Updated as of 12/1/08.
This has certainly been an interesting year in the NFL; elite teams under-performing, several major rule changes, and a rash of bad calls have changed the outcome of some games and the scheme of the NFL.
In Pittsburgh, bad calls and strange rulings have almost become common place this season. A good start would be the Hines Ward fines.
A player who is the model of what an NFL player should be, one who follows the rules and is a genuinely good person, has been fined thousands of dollars on several occasions for "dirty hits."
Even more bizarre is that, on one of these occasions, the NFL refused to explain the reason for the fine. Personally, if I were sent a bill for thousands of dollars with no explanation why, I wouldn't pay.
Fast-forward to the Steelers-Chargers game; we all know what happened and I don't really need to detail it. All I will say is that the point differential can actually come into play if the Steelers lose against the Ravens and another AFC opponent and the Ravens lose to an NFC opponent.
Now, here is the real interesting point I want to make. If you had watched some of the past few Steelers games, starting with the one against the Colts, you will see a lot of the opposing team's offensive line holding the Steelers linebackers as they rush the passer.
This is normal and I can even accept it. The odd thing is that very few of these holding calls result in penalties.
This situation is most evident in the game against the Chargers, when the Steelers became the only team this year with over ten more penalties than their opponent.
The reason is that holding was called against the Steelers line, not the Chargers. The image from this game that sticks in my mind is James Harrison behind the Chargers' line preparing to tackle Phillip Rivers, but he couldn't.
The reason that one of the top pass rushers in the league couldn't tackle a quarterback directly in front of him is because the Chargers' line was holding him, by his face mask. As a side note, that was on third down and the Chargers scored on that drive.
I am not saying bad refereeing is only occurring in Pittsburgh. However, watch the next game, look at the opposing team's line, and then see if there is a flag. There is a reason the Steelers sack totals seemed to slow down significantly, and it's not because the defense cannot rush the passer effectively.
Unfortunately after the Patriots game I have to update this article. This game once again symbolizes the poor officiating against the Steelers. To begin with, how does a defensive nose tackle get a holding penalty, in fact why is there a penalty for that, if it were a penalty it would help the offense more than the defense anyway, by taking the tackle out of the play.
Also we see the same line play by the opposing team, except worse because they are the Patriots. Watch the highlights, on both times Harrison gets to Cassel his arm is behind him in the grip of Matt Light and the Silverback still gets through and forces a fumble.
The same is true on the other side, and this is not joke, on every single play in this game Woodley was being held, his jersey is practically above his head in the grip of the opposing team's offensive lineman. If you do not believe it watch all of the offensive highlights of the Patriots, however few of them there are.
The penalty against Ryan Clark was also a poor call. I can agree that if a hit is big, and that one was big as it took Welker out of the game and probably did more to secure a win than any fumble or touchdown, (though you will never see it on a game changing performance poll) that close attention must be paid.
With that said, the hit was clean, the ball was tipped, could have gone anywhere, and rather than give up a first down Clark decked Welker and made sure that he couldn't get to it, and don't fool yourself, a receiver like Welker could have easily turned and jumped and made that reception.
The Patriots game at least proved that the NFL likes their pretty boys more than their physical down and dirty teams. It also proved that even if you call bad penalties against them, don't call ones on the other team, double team every guy, and do everything dirty you can, the defense of the Steelers is still going to wreck your day. I see a silver football in the not so distant future coming back home for the 6th time.