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SHAWN RINE Last Week 8-8 Overall 118-71-2

WHEELING — This is a difficult one to write because I’ve tried — and failed — to not come off as a whiny baby following Pittsburgh’s 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Listen, I get that the Steelers led 23-7 at halftime. I also understand that the game wasn’t over at that point and they didn’t execute to half the level they did in the first half during the second. All that being said, I can’t remember a game where the officials had so much of an impact on an outcome as they did Sunday night.

Let’s look back.

∫ The Steelers were up 13-0 and the game was teetering on becoming the latest in a long line of prime-time blowouts by the Steelers. But the L.A. right tackle takes 2.5 steps backward before the snap and a portion of the Pittsburgh defense freezes, allowing Philip Rivers to go deep for a touchdown. All the momentum, zapped on one missed call.

∫ Second half, Pittsburgh still up seven. Nearly all punts and kicks in the NFL these days ends with a penalty being marked off against the receiving team. On this punt return, which ends in a touchdown, Steelers gunner Brian Allen is blatantly shoved in the back and the offending party quickly puts both hands in the air and looks back for a call, which in football is code for ”I didn’t mean to so please don’t flag me.” The refs obliged and ignored the penalty.

∫ Still in the second half, with the Heinz Field crowd in full roar following the playing of ”Renegade” over the public address system, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler takes a screen pass, secures the ball and turns up field while taking approximately 2.5 steps which constitutes what is referred to as a ”football move” as it has been explained by the league. Steelers rookie safety Terrell Edmunds blows up Ekler and jars the football loose, only to have the officials rule it an incomplete pass.

Now, here’s the thing(s). If Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t thrown a careless interception in the red zone we’re probably not talking about this. If Chris Boswell hadn’t missed the PAT on Pittsburgh’s second touchdown, again, this discussion is moot.

However, this is the second straight December where the Steelers have essentially had a home game ripped out of their hands by officiating. Surely you guys remember last season when Jesse James caught the winning TD against New England, only to have the call overturned?

None of us can change the outcome, though. It’s frustrating as heck, but it’s time to move on. At 7-4-1 Pittsburgh is still in control of the AFC North. But with back-to-back games forthcoming against New England and New Orleans, the time for urgency is now. They’re going to be playing in the wild-card round, it looks like. It would be wise to assure even that happens.

Thursday

Tennessee 16, Jacksonville 14

All right, boys! Let’s go out and grab some beers and wings and watch the big matchup between the Jaguars and Titans! Well that has not been said by any card-carrying male in the history of civilization. Well, the part about the Jags and Titans, anyway. If I’ve said it a thousand times I will say it a thousand more, if the idea is to bring fans in that otherwise would not be watching, the NFL has been the target by amazing proportions.

Sunday

Tampa Bay 38, New Orleans 35

It seems as though the Saints are human after all. That’s the only way to explain the loss in Dallas. I still contend they’re the best team in the league, but that’s going to play out for all to see. What’s not debatable, is that the Buccaneers have had the offense to play with anyone this season. That could mean a shootout is on the horizon this week.

N.Y. Giants 27, Washington 19

The number of Redskins quarterbacks out for the season with broken legs has reached two. What at the beginning looking like a promising campaign and a possible division title, has vanished. Judging solely by their claiming of Reuben Foster, one could surmise that if Colin Kaepernick is ever to get back in the league, the Redskins might be his last chance. Washington’s front office has shown it’s not worried about distractions.

Atlanta 33, Green Bay 15

I’m sorry, but the firing of Mike McCarthy hours after last week’s loss is not a good look for the Packers. Not for a guy who has meant so much to the organization and community that he had to drive out of the stadium — after just being unceremoniously let go during the season — down a road named in his honor. Just like the QB position, there are only a handful of great coaches in the NFL. Green Bay is about to find out the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Indianapolis 23, Houston 20

The Colts had a chance to keep some pressure on the first-place Texans but put up a stinker in a 6-0 loss to the Jags. The fortunate part of the equation is that they now have the opportunity to take care of their own business in a head-to-head matchup with Houston, which is won nine straight since beginning the season 0-3. If Indianapolis wants to remain in the playoff picture, this one is a must-win.

Buffalo 4, N.Y. Jets 2

Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Each of these teams is up and down just about every other week. Nothing much to say about the matchup, but I did see an interesting fact that including scrambles Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran for more than 800 yards last week. No doubt he enjoyed the rest following the game.

Cleveland 21, Carolina 18

It’s official: the Steelers killed the Panthers. They haven’t been the same since getting their brains beat in down at Heinz Field. But don’t take my work for it, just look at the results. That said, this would be sort of a statement victory for the Browns. I’m willing to say they’re definitely on the upswing and this would be a feather in the cap of Baker Mayfield.

New England 30, Miami 20

This will do it for the AFC Least. Again. It’s such an unfair advantage, but it is what it is. The Patriots still have to win the games, which to their credit they have done at a remarkably consistent pace. Congrats to Tom Brady on reaching the 1,000-yard rushing milestone for his career. I know he’s played for like 324 years, but it seems crazy to me that he would ever hit that mark.

Kansas City 38, Baltimore 13

What in the world is going on with the Ravens? They’re suddenly a half-game back of the Steelers while playing at a decided disadvantage that is Lamar Jackson playing QB in the NFL. But as is the case yearly in Baltimore, it is relying almost solely on a defense that has allowed the least amount of points in the league. That could be about to change.

L.A. Chargers 29, Cincinnati 0

After being gift-wrapped a victory in Pittsburgh, the Chargers get Cincinnati at home? It’s almost as if the league office wants to make sure they’re successful in the L.A. market. But seriously, they’re a good football team. I don’t know that they have the toughness up the middle of their defense to make a legitimate run, but the Chargers will be in the dance.

Denver 26, San Francisco 3

The soft back-half of the schedule continues for the Broncos, and because of that they will likely find themselves in the postseason after all the dust has settled. It’s not Denver’s fault it happened this way and it doesn’t have to offer an apology to anyone. The 49ers, again, are going to be in the running for the top pick in the upcoming draft.

Detroit 12, Arizona 9

How in the world the Cardinals were able to come back from the dead to beat the Packers last week, we may never know. But they did and long term, as in draft status which we just talked about, it’s not a good thing. If you’re going to tank, at least do it correctly.

Philadelphia 22, Dallas 16

A first-place game in the NFC East? And it’s not the Sunday night game? This has to be a misprint, because we all know how the national media loves it some Cowboys and Eagles. Major props to Dallas for scoring the upset of the Saints last week. That was impressive, I admit.

Pittsburgh 34, Oakland 10

This should scare the pants off every single Steelers fan out there. Pittsburgh is 9-29 all-time in Northern California/Seattle, and they’ve lost to some pretty bad teams — like this version of the Raiders — during that time. Making matters worse, James Conner will not play for the Steelers. That means those who have been complaining about their run/pass ratio the last few weeks are really going to be upset after Ben Roethlisberger chucks it about 60 times in Oakland. This would be a critical loss for the Steelers, so expect them to come out fired up.

L.A. Rams 33, Chicago 27

Is Mitch Trubisky playing? That would be great information to have prior to making this selection, but since it’s only Tuesday there’s no way of knowing. The fact it’s still up in the air seems to be an ominous sign for the Bears, who with Trubisky, would pose a serious threat in this game.

Monday

Seattle 34, Minnesota 23

What a clunker the Vikings put forth last week in New England. And with the Bears surprisingly losing to the Giants, it would have been the perfect time to make up some ground. But now they’ve got to go to Seattle, where Russell Wilson is slinging it as well as he ever has. That spells trouble.

Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: srine@theintelligencer.net

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