In the third quarter of their game against the Denver Broncos, talented CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo declared the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the most complete team in the league.
And then suddenly…poof…the wheels came off the bandwagon as the Black and Gold lost to the Broncos in disappointing fashion by a score of 17-24 in a way that left Steelers Nation and league pundits almost instantly losing faith.
How is it possible for the Steelers to be considered the hottest team in the NFL in one moment…and then…just like that…they are suddenly also-rans?
That’s easy to answer. It’s exactly what happens when you begin your season with a first quarter record of 1-2-1.
You start off that poorly and your hopes are always going to be fragile and fleeting, even if you get off to a solid run.
Following last weekend’s loss, the Steelers went from having a reasonable chance to earn the number one seed in the AFC to being questioned about whether they’ll make the playoffs at all.
According to ESPN’s super computers, if the Steelers lose against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, they would be left with only a six percent chance of earning a first round bye in the playoffs.
Them’s not good odds.
Meanwhile, their arch-nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens, are suddenly on a winning streak with a new cheetah-fast quarterback in Lamar Jackson who is already making the fans of Baltimore say, “Joe who?”.
Has Cinderella given the slipper to the Ravens? Do the Steelers have to start looking over their shoulders again?
There’s only one way to sort this out. We’re going to have to Spin it.
Can’t Catch Me Speed
JuJu Smith-Schuster would have a legitimate chance of winning a slander lawsuit against the organizers of the NFL Combine.
The annual shorts and t-shirts convention labeled him as a “slow guy” for a receiver with a 4.54 40-yard-dash.
But, let’s just set the record straight here. You don’t get two 97-yard receiving touchdowns in the first two years of your thrilling career by being a turtle in a field of hares.
No. For guys like JuJu, they need much more reliable metrics at the next Combine. Just put the guy on a line, hand him a football, and have eleven guys chase him.
If he makes it 100 yards, draft him in the first round.
We’re going to call it the “JuJu Test” from here on out.
Fortunately, for the Steelers, that type of sophisticated analysis didn’t exist when they stole Smith-Schuster in the second round.
Man…is he fast…enough.
The Problem With Comebacks
Somewhere in the afterglow of the frenzied celebrations of Steelers Nation following their team’s unbelievably wild last second win over the Jacksonville Jaguars emerged this disturbing thought:
Maybe they just aren’t good enough.
Because, when you’re considered one of the league’s finest, and you barely eke out a victory against a team that is 3-6 at the time, and that ends up losing to a 3-7 Buffalo Bills team the following week…well, you just might not be as good as you think.
The Broncos proved the point with their victory over the Steelers and they did it by turning back a fourth quarter comeback in the waning moments of the game.
The problem with comebacks, is that they shouldn’t be possible for really, really good teams.
Elite teams, should almost always be far ahead.
Being Big Ben
Let’s face it. Ben Roethlisberger is never going to be a public relations superstar. You can blame it on a variety of issues, some of them clearly Big Ben’s own fault.
But seriously, sometimes it is ridiculous how he gets hyper-inflated backlash over the most meaningless of complaints.
His comments this week about pointing out what he perceived as mistakes by two of his receivers, Rookie James Washington and All-Pro Antonio Brown were both muted…and accurate.
Brown responded as the professional that he is. “Ben’s my guy, man. I love him. Anything he says, there’s a method to his madness.”
Yet, even though Big Ben has a serious role as both the leader of the offense and chief motivator, he gets singled out by the media for his public comments and bashed as some type of under-the-bus throwing pariah.
Contrast this to how sports media darling Tom Brady tears a new one live and in front of the national cameras anytime any of his receivers marginally misinterpret a route read.
The amount of saliva Brady has spattered over his teammates through the years is enough to fill the pool of his mansion. Yet…in his case, it’s termed “great leadership”.
It’s not only about his comments, but there is a decided lack of respect for Roethlisberger as a player. Although he is second in the league in total yards passing, and just a screen play away from being first, he was ranked as the number twelve quarterback by the NFL’s official website.
All of this is a harbinger of what will come in the years ahead when Big Ben becomes eligible for Hall of Fame entry. Despite Steelers Nation’s strong opinion in the matter…don’t expect the door to be wide open for him.
The Number One Number Three
There has been a fierce competition on the field to earn the critical role of slot receiver for the Steelers.
There’s a winner now, and the contest wasn’t even close.
It’s time to put the James Washington rookie experiment on hold for a while and firmly give the number three receiver role to Ryan Switzer.
He’s incredibly tough, quite elusive, and is a desperately needed option when Brown and Schuster are getting doubled.
If you read his resume, so far his career has made him more Rodney Dangerfield than even Jordan Dangerfield.
It’s time to give him the respect he’s earned, and the field play the team requires in order to be successful.
(Almost) Undefeated Season
Despite the disappointment of their loss, the Steelers continue to prove one point emphatically: they can beat any team in the NFL.
Unfortunately, this includes beating themselves.
Pittsburgh dominated the Broncos in possession with a 35:00 to 25:00 advantage. They gained an amazing 527 yards, while only yielding 308 to a fairly potent Denver offense that included Emmanuel Sanders’ performance which was obviously fueled by the large chip remaining on his shoulders. His beef was for not getting a Steelers mega-deal offer years ago when he was playing for the good guys.
Moreover, Pittsburgh’s offensive line did an impressive job of blotting out one of the most feared pass rushes in the league.
The reality is, this team can give Big Ben time against anyone, making their offense lethal, and their defense continues to move in an upward direction.
Yet, the Steelers lost. And they dropped the game primarily because of the four turnovers they surrendered including an inexcusable one by Roethlisberger that essentially snuffed out any comeback effort.
If you look at this year’s record, the Steelers have beaten every team they’ve faced, or beat themselves, with the sole exception of their loss against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yeah, that one. They got clobbered.
Could they beat the Chiefs at the back end of the season? There’s a good chance we’ll get to find out in the post season.
Sadly, because the Steelers keep beating themselves, there’s an even better chance that it will be hosted in KC rather than Pittsburgh.
Tomlin’s Boomerang Effect
Most fans of the Steelers through the Tomlin Era are well aware of the coach’s tendency to lose way too many games he shouldn’t. It could be argued that last week’s Denver game would fit in that category.
But, in all fairness, he also deserves credit for bouncing back nicely after these embarrassing setbacks.
It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the Steelers come back with a statement game against the Los Angeles Chargers. An impressive victory would get them placed back on the mantle as one of this year’s most likely Super Bowl contenders.
Yet…not so fast.
The Chargers may have much to say about this as they are playing as good of football and have as deep of talent as any other team in the league.
And Philip Rivers? The quarterback who came in the same draft class as Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career.
He’s also one of the most competitive players in the league. Don’t think he won’t be trying to prove on Sunday he was the best of the 2004 gunslinger draft.
Could You Give Us A Jump Please?
The Steelers are in need of jump starting their playoff run again and the Chargers will prove to be the perfect ones to give them that spark.
As someone who grew up in San Diego in the 80’s and had to cheer my Steelers on while the home crowd surfin’ dudes were chanting, “San dee egg o…supa Charg gers, pow…pow…pow” these games always have special meaning.
And, there is no underscoring the significance this game will have Sunday, under the big lights, and in front of a national audience.
Perhaps the Steelers have been beating themselves. Maybe it will cost them the ultimate prize.
But, no one can say this hasn’t been a thrill a minute this year. We’ll all be charged up when the first whistle sounds.