By Michael K. Reynolds
That whooshing sound you heard on Sunday was the hot air escaping your previously high-flying Pittsburgh Steelers. Had they simply performed at an average level against the previously 1-8 New York Jets they could have taken over the lead of the AFC North and established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the NFL.
Instead, they plummeted back to mediocrity and will be left to rummage for playoff scraps most likely for the remainder of the season. And so with no lipstick covering this pig of a performance, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Steelers Need A Sports Shrink
Many would argue the Steelers were unprepared or once again underestimated their opponent, but those explanations no longer have merit. Coach Mike Tomlin and his players said all of the right things leading up to the game. Their preparation for the Jets was as intense as it was for any other team. No. The reason for the loss and those to other inferior teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and so many other weak opponents in the past) is simple…they choked. Cases in point:
- Hall of Fame level quarterback drops back for a pass and gets so much time in the pocket he could have been called for a delay of game. What does Ben Roethlisberger do with this all of this time so generously provided by his line? He lofts a lollipop pass to the awaiting arms of one of the worst secondaries in the league. Thank you Big Ben.
- Sure handed All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown fumbles a ball after a screen pass. Then he follows this up by bobbling a punt. Two turnovers from one of the best players in the game?
- One of the most accurate field goal kickers in Steelers history misses a gimmee 23-yard field goal attempt.
- Cornerback William Gay, a top performer this season, emulates Ike Taylor by allowing a ten-yard fluttering interception opportunity to slip through his fingers.
- As part of a forgettable late in the game first and goal series opportunity for the Steelers LeGarrette Blount decides to run backwards to the ten yard line.
- Also with the game on the line in a critical series Roethlisberger bobbles a snap for a large loss.
- The Steelers pull off a miracle of getting an onsides kick…only to learn that Darrius Heyward-Bey was offsides.
Must we continue?
Whatever Coach Mike Tomlin is trying to accomplish in psychologically preparing his team for these kinds of games flat out isn’t working. It’s time for a decidedly new approach.
With the 2-7 Tennessee Titans next up and the 3-6 Atlanta Falcons due to arrive soon, the Steelers need to get their heads screwed on quickly.
Tomlin’s Inspirational Press Conferences
If you are ever in the mood for good comedy tune into a Mike Tomlin press conference where you’ll hear him talking up the opposing team. A team is 1-8 and led by a journeyman quarterback? You’d never know. The way Tomlin describes them they are 22 Canton Inductees coached by Vince Lombardi. Apparently Tomlin’s approach is working. No one can fire up a weak team and inspire greatness from average players like him.
Understandably, angry calls from fans will be pouring into the talk shows all this week. Which means many of the media will go to the defense of the team and its coaches and once again allude in patronizing tones to the ignorance and fickleness of fans. But these aren’t just bad losses. This is football at its worst and it’s painful to watch. This isn’t about a team in transition or the need for patience. Until the Steelers can figure out how to consistently show up against weak teams they’ll have no business being disappointed with disappointed fans.
It’s with great fatigue these words get put on paper yet again, but the Steelers find themselves in a must-win situation against the Titans on Monday Night Football. After blowing what should have been an easy AFC win against the Jets, the Steelers now can’t afford to lose another conference game the remainder of the season.