Cook: Steelers vs. Bucs wasn't a Mozart and it wasn't good viewing

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Maybe the 5,000 people who came to Heinz Field dressed as empty seats yesterday had the right idea.

Maybe they realized there were better things to do on a seasonable December Sunday afternoon than watch the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers try to play football.

A little holiday shopping, perhaps. Or raking the last of the leaves. Or laundry ...

Yes, doing a load of undies somehow seemed preferable to watching the Steelers not so much beat the Buccaneers, 20-3, as survive them.

The only person who had a worse day than the players and coaches on both sides was the Fox Television executive who made the decision to switch the kickoff from 1 to 4:15 p.m. and make this a national telecast.

He or she subjected America to this?

And just think, the NFL Network will bring the Cleveland Browns-Steelers game Thursday night at Heinz Field into the nation's living rooms.

Hasn't America suffered enough?

The game yesterday brought to mind the words of Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who once was famously quoted after an ugly win, "It wasn't a Moatzart."

Or a Mozart, either.

But, really, what did you expect? Those were the 4-7 Steelers lined up against the 3-8 Buccaneers. Do you think those teams sunk that low in the standings by accident? They were there for a reason. They're bad teams.

Don't even try saying you felt sorry for the people who had to watch the Houston-Oakland game yesterday.

Make no mistake, this was our little version of Houston-Oakland.

The only good news for the smallish crowd of 59,843 was that the Buccaneers were a lot worse than the Steelers. Their 13 offensive possessions ended with a sack of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski by linebacker Joey Porter, a dropped pass by running back Carnell Williams, an interception by linebacker Larry Foote, another sack by Porter, a sack by defensive end Brett Keisel, a sack by defensive end Aaron Smith, a fumble by Williams, a punt, an interception by cornerback Bryant McFadden after wide-open wide receiver Michael Clayton dropped what should have been a 39-yard touchdown pass, a sack by cornerback Deshea Townsend when Gradkowski just fell down to avoid being hit, an incomplete pass, an interception by linebacker Clint Kriewaldt and a ticky-tack 27-yard field goal on the game's final play that saved Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, who fancies himself as something of an offensive genius, the embarrassment of being shut out.

That's bad.

The Steelers were better, but not by a lot.

Yes, the defense picked up its game after being embarrassed a week earlier in Baltimore. But was it really that good or was the Buccaneers' offense that bad? Gruden never seemed to call a pass play longer than 2 or 3 yards. Gradkowski, the kid from Dormont who couldn't possibly have had a worse homecoming, played like a sixth-round draft pick whom no one really wanted, taking five sacks and throwing three interceptions and almost a fourth when Townsend dropped a pass with nothing but green grass in front of him.

Offensively, the Steelers couldn't run the ball with Willie Parker despite trying all afternoon. The rest of their offense was maddeningly inconsistent. It wasn't just the dropped passes by wide receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Heath Miller or the false-start penalty on guard Kendall Simmons on a fourth-and-1 play at the Tampa Bay 36. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a horrible interception on the Steelers' first possession, No. 20 of the season, a staggering total for someone so talented. Later, Roethlisberger showed his marvelous ability, throwing touchdown passes to tight end Jerame Tuman and Miller and, most spectacularly, avoiding the pass rush to throw a 36-yard beauty to wide receiver Nate Washington. Kicker Jeff Reed made a 50-yard field goal to give the Steelers an insurmountable 10-0 lead, then missed from 32 yards.

That inconsistency is why there are no playoffs in the Steelers' immediate future.

As disappointed as you are, imagine how they're feeling in Tampa this morning even if the sun is shining and it's 80 degrees.

If nothing else, they should be ashamed of Gruden.

You won't see a more bush-league move than his decision to send out kicker Matt Bryant for that field goal with 4 seconds left. Even Cowher -- always hesitant to criticize another coach -- couldn't contain himself from saying how he wouldn't stoop so low.

What's the No. 1 rule for any coach?

Win with class, lose with dignity and, above all else, respect the game?

Gruden failed miserably.

Just like his pitiful team.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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