Two Playoff Teams Going In Opposite Directions

The First Mate and I both are fighting off colds, and so we cut short a shopping day after a few stops to spend the rest of the day in bed. I decided to keep tabs on my two NFL teams, both of which played early games, televised in the Twin Cities.
My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had little to gain from this road game in Buffalo. Their tremendous rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had been injured in the last game and the Steelers listed him only as the emergency QB for the game. In fact, most of the Steelers sat out this game, allowing the Buffalo Bills to hope that they could squeak into the playoffs against the second- and third-string Pittsburgh lineup they faced.
However, even with the replacements, the Steelers dominated the Bills while rolling to a 29-24 win. With future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis sitting on the bench and most of the starting offensive line resting up, RB Willie Parker took up the slack with a 100-yard game on 19 rushes. The defense scored its own touchdown to cinch the victory. They became the first AFC team ever to go 15-1.
The Steelers took a game that meant nothing — they’d already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — and allowed their benchers to up the intensity to championship levels. With the depth the Steelers have at all positions, it looks near-impossible to stop the Pittsburgh juggernaut.
On the other hand, the Minnesota Vikings backed into the playoffs with a typically embarrassing effort against the lowly Washington Redskins. The Skins won only their sixth game all season against what’s supposed to be one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Instead, the Vikings could only muster ten points until the final three seconds of the game, when they added a touchdown and a two-pointer to come within a field goal.
And here, amazingly, the Vikings managed to shame themselves even further. An onsides kick, quickly recovered, could have given the Vikings one last shot at the end zone and an honorable entry into the playoffs, although with just two seconds left, the chances were mighty slim. Incredibly, the man that the Vikings would have needed to take that one last shot walked off the field before the kickoff! No one who watches Viking football should have been surprised to see Randy Moss giving up on his teammates with the game on the line — but the humiliation of his lazy-assed canter into the lockerroom while the Vikings special-teams squad tried to inspire themselves shows the missing heart that plagues this Vikings team.
The juxtaposition of these two teams could not have been more dramatic. On one hand, the team that had no reason to push themselves played a gritty, determined game that sent a message to every AFC team in the playoffs. On the other, we have a team that had to win today to guarantee a playoff spot and they couldn’t even be bothered to stick it out to the end. Pathetic doesn’t even begin to cover it.