The Pittsburgh Steelers had a golden opportunity to get their year off to a 3-1 start, playing at home against a winless team.
They were winning, in fact, for most of the second half—that is, until the last seven seconds, when Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon found wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone on third and goal.
Instead, they find themselves even at 2-2, having traded wins and losses through the first four weeks of the season.
But it certainly looks much better than where they were at this time a year ago.
Last year, of course, the Steelers dropped their first four games and six of their first eight before flipping it around to finish 6-2, ending up with an even .500 record and narrowly missing the playoffs because of a missed field goal in an unrelated game.
The problem is, the rest of the division looks better now than compared to a year ago as well.
The Cincinnati Bengals, idle yesterday, sit atop the division at 3-0, one of only two remaining unbeaten teams.
The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, trounced the one team that the Steelers were able to beat handily this year, putting up a 28-point margin of victory over the Carolina Panthers with the final scoreboard reading 38-10.
Although the Cleveland Browns—like Cincinnati, idle—currently have a 1-2 record, their two losses have come by a combined five points. They were leading or tied in both losses at the two-minute warning, in fact, though after last night’s primetime performance in Dallas, their victory over the New Orleans Saints is looking less and less impressive.
So as it currently stands, the Steelers rank third in the division through the first four weeks of the season. The Bengals are guaranteed to post a winning record despite playing only three games, and the Browns must win their next game to to tie the Steelers.
It’s still difficult to discern just who this team is. On offense, they’ve put up 24 points or more in three out of four games, but they mustered only six in the other.
They’ve given up 26 points or more three times of defense, while the other game saw the opposition score 19 after having already been blown out.
We saw last season that the Steelers needed time to come together collectively before they began rattling off wins late in the year.
Will that be a similar case this year, or will this coming together process take a full season to gestate? Losing three starters on defense didn’t help matters, but the tougher division makes it even more difficult, with the loss to Tampa Bay being the first non-division loss by any AFC North team.