Levine: It's Tebow Time once more


Levine: It's Tebow Time once more

Not that our opinions actually mattered, but at the start of yesterdays overtime between the Steelers and Broncos, Patriots fans were faced with an interesting question:

Whom would they rather have the Pats play next?

Was it Pittsburgh, with its beaten down defense, no-name running game and quarterback who was now as immobile on the field as he was hide-your-daughters creepy off of it?

Or was it Denv Boom!

Before you could even finish the thought, Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard score to knock out the Steelers and render the whole argument insignificant. Although, we all wanted Denver anyway, right? Right?!

Of course we did.

Heading into this weekend, the Steelers were the only potential opponent to strike fear in New England's hopes to avoid a fourth straight playoff loss. The Bengals were a joke. Tebow Time had long run out. The Steelers, and only the Steelers, were the team who had a chance to come in and ruin another Patriots' season.

But after watching what Denver did yesterday, are you still that convinced that the Curse of David Tyree I've got copyrights on that, Shaughnessy. Don't even think about it! is ready to run out?

On one hand, you only need to look back as far as Week 15 to realize how capable the Pats are of dominating Denver. Outside of a frustrating first quarter which is the only way these Pats know how to play the opening frame they treated the Broncos like dirt. And that was in Denver, at the height of Tebow Mania, before they lost offensive lineman Chris Kuper for the season and now, very likely, Eric Decker. The Pats destroyed the Broncos when they were at their very best, so it's hard to imagine or expect anything less when the two reconvene on Saturday night.

Then again, regular season success hasn't really helped the Patriots much in recent years. As you know, they've now lost three straight playoff games, and all three came against teams that they'd already beaten that same season. They beat the Giants 38-35 in Week 17 of 2007, and lost in the Super Bowl, 17-14. They beat the Ravens 27-21 in Week 4 of 2009, and lost 33-14 in the playoffs. And most recently (and probably the most comparable situation to this one), the Pats beat the Jets 45-3 in Week 13 last season. You remember that? Remember how that's all anyone could talk about heading into the playoffs? How that game was proof positive that the Jets had absolutely no shot of coming in here and walking away with a win?

The Patriots were 9.5-point favorites heading into that game, and finished up as seven-point losers. On Saturday, they'll take the field as 14-point favorites, and will likely face a very different Denver team than the one they saw in December. The defense has been taken down a peg, the offense has taken a few major injury-related hits. Who knows how Willis McGahee's confidence is after that huge potential-season-ending fumble? And of course, Tebow Time isn't what it once was.

While he may have led his team to another improbable victory, it wasn't anything like those head scratchers from Denver's mid-season run. There were no onside kicks, two point conversions, phantom fumbles or idiots out of bounds. Instead, it was just a solid quarterback playing a relatively sound (and consistent) game against a very good (albeit beaten down) defense. Perhaps that makes him more apt to take on the Patriots, but if anything, the superhuman mystique has certainly worn off. There will be no question in the Pats minds that they're up against a mere mortal. But given recent history, there's also no question that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. We've been here before. We've assumed too much and been burned in ways that haven't yet healed.

But still, while it might be dangerous to assume the Pats are in for a playoff cake walk against Denver, I'm sure as hell happy they're not playing Pittsburgh.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

With the NFL facing more PR issues by the day, Randy Moss has identified what he feels is wrong with a league that can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

In wake of the Josh Brown situation, which saw the NFL blame the King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office for the lack of initial punishment given to the Giants kicker for domestic violence, Moss said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that commissioner Roger Goodell is the league’s biggest problem. 

“[This is] a bad time to show up now, breast cancer awareness month where we’re supporting the women, and then you come up with this Josh Brown, where it doesn’t seem like we are supporting women,” Moss said. “I think the NFL needs to take a deep look. I think the owners are mad, and Roger Goodell, he is the biggest reason to all of this stuff that’s fallen downhill with the NFL. I have to agree with that.”

Brown was initially given a one-game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy stemming from his 2015 fourth-degree domestic violence charge. On Friday, the 37-year-old was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. 

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.