Gene Collier: Steelers have no room for shenanigans
January 17, 2016 12:00 AM
Antonio Brown is attended to after taking a hard, illegal hit that drew a penalty against the Bengals in the fourth quarter in the AFC Wild Card game last Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As desperate and amped as they are for a playoff smackdown that grants the victor a spot in the AFC championship, both the Steelers and the Broncos and all their attendants are hoping to avoid the kind of decisive idiocy that last week turned Paul Brown Stadium into a toxic spill.
Unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness, personal fouls, late hits and taunting -- and that was just in the stands.
At times, you couldn't tell who was worse, the Cincinnati fans or the Steelers they came out to berate.
Oh, maybe you forgot that part, or maybe you just didn't notice, but here's a refresher.
In the moments immediately preceding the fateful piggy-backed penalties committed by Bengals bumblers Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, the ones that repositioned the Steelers for an easy winning field goal, these were the total penalty yards for each team:
Cincinnati 49, Steelers 142.
The Steelers, who won the game as the aggrieved party, had been whacked nearly three times as hard for bad behavior right up until the brain-dead Bengals penalties that sent them to Denver.
So if you think the Steelers are harboring no players who might behave, uh, intemperately, and quite possibly at a most inopportune moment, then you pretty much share the prideful optimism of linebacker Arthur Moats.
"I'm very confident in us," Moats said when I asked about how confident he was that no one on this team will make a costly error, a Bengalesque error. "I think we've displayed that all season long, and it starts up top with our organization. You know, with the Rooneys and with coach [Mike] Tomlin, they preach discipline, they preach bein' accountable."
That sounded like straight memorization from the catechism, and, as Tomlin would surely say, the catechism is the catechism, but the facts are also the facts.
Only four teams in this NFL season committed more unnecessary-roughness penalties than the Steelers' 10, and, when it comes to the potential for deflated decorum, Tomlin's team is probably fortunate that the Broncos have 10 as well.
"The smallest things happen in the biggest games that change them," Broncos safety T.J. Ward was telling Colorado journalists last week. "We don't want to hurt ourselves. We don't want to go in there and take away all of the work that we've done throughout the game with dumb penalties."
Ward committed only two unnecessary-roughness penalties this year and got himself ejected only once, but coach Gary Kubiak still sees a need for some gentle reminders.
"Hopefully, it's something that you preach all the time, not just now," Kubiak was saying midweek. "We talk about it. You don't want to hurt your football team, but you don't ever want to take the aggression away from your football team. I think I've talked about that all year long. These games are huge. One or two plays can sway these games either way. You sure don't want it to be because of a penalty or a lack of poise. We'll address everything just like we do every week. We understand we need to keep our poise."
I'm not sure how poised it was for Denver safety Darian Stewart to mention that he would have no problem disabling Steelers center Cody Wallace if presented the opportunity.
"He comes out on a screen, he better not come at me -- I'm cuttin' him," Stewart said. "That's where I'm at right now."
Wallace, the most-penalized player on either team, drew a flag for drilling Broncos linebacker David Bruton Dec. 6 at Heinz Field in a late and ill-advised attempt to protect Antonio Brown.
Wallace remains cool with all this, but with Cody, there seems a short distance between bemused and maniacal.
"You gotta be smart out there," he said.
That's good advice anytime, and you would hope it got some distribution in the Steelers locker room. Among their 10 penalties at Cincinnati, at least four were of the not-being-smart-at-all variety: Interference with the opportunity to make a fair catch (doh!), unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness and another unsportsmanlike conduct due to a "two-player demonstration."
That was when rookie linebacker Bud Dupree joined William Gay in the end zone to celebrate a touchdown that didn't officially happen.
It was Gay's second celebration penalty of the season, and he's playing in a secondary where Mike Mitchell has celebrated some big hits while the ball was still loose on the field. Gay and Mitchell and Wallace and the always-volatile linebackers coach Joey Porter bring a lot to the Steelers' table, but don't think that they or someone else today in Denver isn't capable of flipping the table over with a spasm of, uh, again, let's call it intemperance.
The Bengals handed the Steelers a playoff win with this kind of nonsense. It would be a sin for them to turn around and hand one to Denver in the same stupid wrapping.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @genecollier.
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