NFL Week 10 Observations: Curse of Justin Bieber strikes the Steelers

 If the Steelers coaches and team officials had seen the onslaught coming, they would have most certainly stopped it. Had they known that during their trip to New York they were going to face a desperate, dangerous force that was going to sway their season for the worse, surely they would have intervened.

   For while there may not have been any recourse to stopping the upstart, nothing-to-lose Jets on Sunday, with at least a little bit of a heads up, they just might have been able to prevent the fateful sequence of events Saturday night that foretold the doom on the horizon. Instead, they were ambushed by Justin Bieber at their team chapel service at their Jersey City hotel Saturday night, becoming the latest sports entity to fall prey to The Curse Of The Biebs, an ailment that threatens to undercut the second half of their season. Shaking this won’t be easy.

Of course, I jest (somewhat; this kid has been proven to be a fairly consistent jinx -- he's seemingly done it to the Blackhawks, Heat and Spain's World Cup team), but then how else to explain the unexplainable sequence of events at The Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon? Ben Roethlisberger came in throwing 12 touchdowns in two weeks -- something never before accomplished in the history of the game -- and faced a Jets team on pace to shatter the record for touchdown passes allowed. New York had three takeaways all season entering the game. It had three by halftime, while Roethlisberger became totally incapable of completing a pass anywhere near the end zone.

Bieber with the Steelers Saturday night.
Bieber with the Steelers Saturday night. (Twitter)

Big Ben was beaten and flustered, getting picked on a deflection at the goal line and then throwing a ball literally up for grabs early in the second half, before the game got totally out of hand (that brutal pick pretty much tilted the game for good). Antonio Brown gave the ball away on special teams. Pittsburgh’s offense was inept. Its protection, so stout for the past month, wilted -- and the recently pristine play calling seemed haphazard, with plays taking forever to evolve. James Harrison, of all people on the field, was on offense in a critical goal-line sequence that failed. And the Steelers played some of the ugliest football we’ve seen in quite some time.

Michael Vick seemed too fast and too spry for their defense. William Gay dropped a gift interception near the goal line. Shaun Suisham missed the shortest unsuccessful field goal attempted in the NFL this season after hitting a career-best 53-yarder earlier in the game. It was like that. It had to be the lingering impact of the interaction with Bieber from Saturday night. Nothing else makes sense.

Nothing they tried worked. They resorted to trying to blow up a victory formation, display incongruous with their well-earned standing as one of the classiest operations around. So how else could you explain it? It’s gotta be the Biebs.

Let that serve as a warning to the rest of the NFL. Spend less time fretting about potential locker room distractions and curfews and bed checks, and more time instructing team security to keep Bieber away from your hotel, even if his advisors happen to be close with your team chaplain. It’s not worth it. Sure, a wide swath of your reserves and journeymen  bask in selfies they post on Twitter throughout the night, and their daughters may in fact be impressed. But the risks far outweigh the rewards.   

Regardless of how or why the Steelers collapsed, the reality is this wasn't even half as close as the 20-13 score indicated, with Ben getting a late garbage 80-yard touchdown and the Steelers never looking like they were up to the physical approach New York took with them on either side of the ball. It's only one game, and this league, and particularly this season, is a week-to-week proposition, but Pittsburgh let a chance to take command of the topsy-turvy AFC North slip away, and if I'm the Ravens, Bengals and Browns I'm shipping a game ball to Bieber right away -- but I'm not including a return address on the label.

Looking ahead to TNF: The loser of the Bills-Dolphins game Thursday night is in trouble.

This looks like a bad time for either team to be on a short week, with the Dolphins losing stud tackle Branden Albert -- arguably the best performing free-agent acquisition in the entire league so far -- potentially for the season to a knee injury, and with their reconfigured offensive line getting torn up by the burly Detroit defensive line for a good part of the afternoon. And the Bills absolutely found a way to give away a critical potential playoff tiebreaker to the Chiefs, during which rookie receiver Sammy Watkins -- the fulcrum of their offense -- seemed very limited by his groin injury, which doesn't bode well with such a quick turnaround against a stout defense looming.

The Bills are in a particular predicament. Both teams are 5-4, and certainly in the hunt, but Buffalo is only 2-4 within the AFC (Miami is 4-2), and given its remaining schedule, getting to even .500 within the conference will be a chore if they fall to 2-5. After hosting the Jets, the schedule is loaded with what amount to a bevy of playoff games: hosting the Browns, going to Denver, and still having to go to New England. They do have Oakland left on the schedule, but their lone remaining NFC game is Green Bay.

With the Patriots again running away with this division, it’s wild card or bust for these two teams, and the Bills have some mental hurdles to overcome after this troubling home loss to the Chiefs, coming off the bye. The offense was out of sorts without Watkins being close to his usual self, there were special team meltdowns, and they were repeatedly bogged down in Chiefs territory.

On one sequence Bryce Brown was stripped on the way to the end zone, teammate Scott Chandler somehow failed to collect the ball in the end zone when it bounced into his hands, and out it rolled for a touchback instead of a score. And down 17-13 with a little under 3 minutes to play Doug Marrone shockingly went for it on fourth-and-10 rather than take an easy field goal. Kyle Orton threw a pick and that was the game.

The Dolphins already lost once at Buffalo, and getting swept by the Bills could send them into a tailspin, and they have a brutal schedule of their own down the stretch. The Dolphins let a lead slip away late, albeit on the road against a super-tough Lions team. Overall, the Dolphins impressed me, Brent Grimes was a standout again, but you have to wonder about Ryan Tannehill now without his standout left tackle, and the Dolphins run game remains very much a work in progress.  

Neither team can afford to lose this game. Of course, one of them will.

Odds and Ends from Week 10

  1. It was a weird week for end zone interceptions. They seemed to happen all over the place. I mentioned Big Ben's, but Tannehill and Matt Stafford threw dueling end zone picks in their game and Drew Brees threw a costly one during an overtime loss to the 49ers. Then Eli (of course Eli) threw one in Seattle with Earl Thomas finally registering his first pick of the season. Such a copycat league.
  2. Speaking of big plays, kind of crazy that the Harbaugh Bros. ended up on opposite sides of huge offensive pass interference calls at the end of regulation in massive games. John Harbaugh believed a winning, 80-yard touchdown by Steve Smith in Cincinnati should have counted (it was negated by offensive pass interference some saw as a flop) and the Saints appeared to win this game at the end of regulation but Jimmy Graham’s long touchdown catch was negated due to offensive pass interference (I thought there was some flopping involved in this one as well), which ended up delighting 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh once he figured out what the hell the officials had called.
  3. I like a lot of what I see from Zach Mettenberger, but the Titans suffered from horrendous field position in the rookie’s first road NFL start, had no running game to speak of, and ended up with less than 70 yards of offense in the final three quarters of the game as the Ravens pulled away after Tennessee mounted consecutive strong drives to open the game.
  4. Haloti Ngata is clearly healthier than he's been in years for Baltimore. He had another excellent game, stripping Shonn Greene at the goal line for a big fumble, chasing down ball carriers all over the field, generating pressure and knocking down passes.
  5. Said all week Tony Romo would play and play well and that he's played through much more serious and painful injuries in the past. Big feel-good win for the Cowboys in London. 
  6. It didn’t take long for Stafford to begin looking for Calvin Johnson almost all the time. At times it cost the Lions, with the ball forced into him and into peril of being picked (as it was when Grimes made one of the plays of the year on the ball in the end zone), but man, it’s also unstoppable at times. Jonson was targeted 15 times, and caught a 49-yard bomb – Grimes just didn’t have the size to get to this one – that set an early tone in the game. Golden Tate went back to being very much a complementary piece in the first half with Megatron back on the field, but then saw much more of the ball as the game went on and had 13 targets himself.
  7. This Rams defense is back to being absolutely nasty. They are going to upset more teams down the stretch and blow up a season or two, especially with the way they are assaulting the opposing quarterback after a bizarrely slow start in that regard.
  8. I’m still waiting for any piece of empirical evidence that Tony Sparano has made some iota of difference in this woeful Raiders season. I mean they almost had their first halftime lead of the season – which I suppose is some sort of accomplishment – but, well, they then ended up down by 10 at the half of what became a blowout loss after yet another meltdown. 
CBS Sports Insider

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday... Full Bio

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