It’s always tough to account for recency bias, but I think it would be fair to say that the manner in which the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New England Patriots on Sunday is one of the tougher ways in which it could come, at least that I can think of.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m sure many of you already feel the same way, even among the older generation that can recall the horrors of some losses I’m glad I didn’t have to experience directly. But this one was bad. Ask the players.
“Toughest one since I’ve been playing football, man” guard David DeCastro told reporters after the game was over. “That was, that’s tough man, when you lose and it’s not”, he paused, before asking to himself, “how do I say this the right way?”.
You know, of course, to what he was referring. The Steelers seemed to have driven down the field in just two plays to score a go-ahead touchdown with under half a minute to play, but the officials overturned the score, and two plays later, an interception sealed their fate.
So what were the circumstances for which DeCastro was seeking the words that would not get him into trouble? The ones that are “not in your control”, he went with. “It’s tough, but we had our chances so what are you going to do?”, he added.
And they did have their chances, of course. It’s entirely upon their own shoulders that the final two plays they ran seemed more like an unplanned scrimmage than the potential script for all but sealing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The fact that the loss came to the Patriots, and the fact that the Patriots have now beaten them five consecutive times, certainly provided no comfort. “That makes it worse”, DeCastro said. “They’re the team to beat”, was his concession.
“We had them, had them again, but didn’t”.
The ‘so close, yet so far’ aura of the game remains with just about every Steelers fan I’ve encountered in the past two days. And it will probably be a permanent stain if they don’t win the Super Bowl this year. That’s a cold bucket of water, but it’s true. This game will be remembered and stored under the file of ‘what could have been’ unless they can erase it with a Lombardi. It’s as simple as that.
Still, the road ahead might have gotten a bit tougher, but there remains a road ahead. The Steelers are already locked in for at least a home game in the Wildcard round, and they remain on pace for a bye week, even if they now require help for homefield advantage.
There is a postseason run to come, and it will be those three or four games that matter the most. That is where legacies are made.