Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Don’t be surprised if the Steelers win today.

They’re playing a team that they had beaten last year until one of the dumbest rules in sports history – now known as the Jesse James Rule – took the win away.

They’re playing a team that just lost to the Miami Dolphins on the road last week and lost to the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans on the road earlier this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars? They beat the New England Patriots?

They sure did, 31-20, back on Sept. 16. They’re 2-2 in their last four games and this is their fourth road game in the last five weeks. They’re still the New England Patriots, they still have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but they are beatable, especially when you get to play them at home.

It’s understandable that everybody around here would be focusing on the Steelers having played four bad games in a row, three of which they lost, but the Patriots just aren’t that much better and history doesn’t matter once they kick off.

Most of the criticism of the Steelers during their three-game losing streak has been directed at the defense, if you don’t count the kicker. The Steelers have the 8th-ranked defense in the NFL. The Patriots are 22nd. The Steelers are ranked fourth in total offense, the Patriots are fifth.

Yeah, but everybody knows the Steelers’ pass defense stinks and It has no chance against the Patriots and Tom Brady. The Steelers’ defense is ranked 12th in the NFL, the Patriots are ranked 23rd. But the Steelers can’t stop the run, right? Maybe, but they’re ranked 6th in that department and the Patriots are 15th.

Frank Gore, whose career began during the George W. Bush administration, ran for 92 yards against the Patriots last week. Too bad for the Steelers that James Conner is banged up, but they should be able to find somebody to put up some yards and keep Brady off the field.

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers’ defense figuring out a way to stop Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who had nine catches for 168 yards last year at Heinz Field, but remember they had the Patriots beat despite those numbers right up until the Jesse James Rule.

The defense isn’t going to win this game for the Steelers, but the Patriots’ defense isn’t going to win it for them, either. Lots of points are going to be scored. It says here that the Steelers will win 35-31. Why? It’s been that kind of year.

  • The best quarterback in the NFL won’t be playing at Heinz Field today. He has the day off. Maybe you saw him playing for the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night. Patrick Mahomes, the guy who threw six touchdown passes against the Steelers back on Sept. 16, is the man right now.

He has plenty of statistics to back it up – more than 4,500 yards, 45 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 114.8 – but all quarterback numbers are crazy theses days.

You have to see this kid (he’s only 23) play.

He made plays against the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday night that Brady, Roethlisberger, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers couldn’t dream of making. Mahomes is a pure passer who can make great throws on the run and from every imaginable angle. He’s 6-3, 230 pounds and knows how to keep a play alive until the last possible second and still make a play. Like Roethlisberger, only with more speed. He can dink and dunk with the best of them with 314 pass attempts of less than 10 yards, compared to Brady’s 300 and Roethlisberger’s 352 but he, unlike Brady, likes to make the long throws, too.

Mahomes is 27-for-60 on passes longer than 20 yards.

Brady is 10-for-30, Roethlisberger 27-for-55.

He’s fun to watch.

  • Somebody forgot to tell Frank Gore that he’s too small to last this long in the NFL. He’s only 5-9 and still putting up 90-yard games at age 35. Of course, Darren Sproles is still playing for the Eagles at 35. He’s 5-6.

  • Good news about the Super Bowl. They’re having trouble finding acts for the halftime show. Maroon 5 has the gig this year and can’t find an act to join them. If football fans are lucky this will be the beginning of a return to the 12-minute halftime with a high school band or a dog and a Frisbee.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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