The San Francisco 49ers avoided mistakes and overcame injuries, defeating a Pittsburgh Steelers squad that did the exact opposite. The lopsided contest was reminiscent of the excitement and allure that the Silicon Valley brought to football over a decade ago.
Surely, 49ers fans are a bit more reassured about their excitement following their validating 20-3 victory. Although playing an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the San Francisco defense made big plays, particularly with forcing first-half turnovers and late-game sacks. Likewise, Alex Smith looked to his key playmakers and avoided the costly mistake, putting the game away during two second-half touchdown drives capped off by Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.
While the thrill of victory pulses through California, the Steel City took a huge step backwards in their effort to secure a first-round bye and home field advantage in the NFL playoffs. Suddenly, the AFC North title seems a far reach, and even that wouldn’t guarantee any sort of rest considering the team’s loss to Houston earlier this season.
Of more concern to Steelers fans than a division championship is the prospects of playing on the road in January with an injured Ben Roethlisberger. As with other games for the Black and Gold, 2011 has showcased road woes and prime-time pains, a combination that seems ominous headed toward the playoffs.
Nevertheless, a postseason berth has been secured, and the team boasts enough talent across the board to stay in the Super Bowl XLVI conversation. What do they have to work on to get there? Are these aspirations a legitimate possibility or a mere pipe dream?
Here are 10 observations and thoughts following a disappointing Week 15 loss at the mansion that Montana built.
Disclaimer Regarding Avoided Topics: Whether partly due to rehash or an unhealthy level of ire, I am forfeiting my opportunity to discuss the soft zone coverage, particularly on the outside, that allowed Alex Smith to breathe a sigh of relief on early downs all night.
Additionally, there will be no reference to Pittsburgh's brutal clock management to end the first half, another in a laundry list of road errors that have plagued the Black and Gold all season.