And there you have it folks. An end to the Pittsburgh Steelers season that includes sporting the brown paper bags Cleveland Browns fans have adorned with respectable pride for so many years.
We need the Browns to keep us from eating crow? Whahh?
Go Baker Mayfield? Huh?
How did it all come down to this? A season of tremendous promise reduced to a Sunday of begging for scraps.
Oh…and don’t forget. The Steelers have this little thing to do like actually win their game against the Cincinnati Bengals to give them a whiff of a chance to advance to the post season.
But, we don’t need to worry about that game, do we? We never lose the easy ones, right?
In this, the worst coaching performance of Mike Tomlin’s mostly admirable tenure, the story as he says is yet to be fully told.
But, if the last chapter is anything like the first fifteen, we’re not going to like the ending.
Brace yourself, Steelers Nation. It’s going to take all we have to put a Spin on this one.
Life’s A Brees?
C’mon. Did you really think this Steelers defense was going to put a stop to Drew Brees when it mattered most?
In truth, the Steelers loss by the score of 28-31 to the New Orleans Saints was one of the most entertaining games, and perhaps Pittsburgh’s best performance, of the year.
After all, it would be no surprise for the Saints to be the representative of the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, there was no James Harrison Participation Trophy given at the end, and the problem was this game mattered.
As in it REALLY mattered. And the crime is that it did.
When you make your bed that poorly in the last stretch of the season, it’s no surprise you’re laying on nails at the end.
Spin The Crystal Ball
In September, following the Steelers tie to the Cleveland Browns and then their subsequent loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in game two of this season, you read this in the Spin:
So…just so y’all know…the Steelers will win again this season. In fact, they will win many again this season. They’ll win some big games. Maybe tonight. Maybe next week against the Baltimore Ravens. And all of the people who called for Tomlin’s and General Manager Kevin Colbert’s heads will be shamed by those currently hiding in the Tomlin Raving Fan Witness Protection Program.
In fact, Pittsburgh will go on to an impressive streak of wins at some point this season. They’ll make it into the playoffs, by winning the division, or through a narrow Wildcard entry. There…they’ll lose in disappointing fashion, and then back into the Witness Protection Program the Tomlin Raving Fans will go. How do we know this? We don’t…for sure. But it has been the protocol for the past ten years, has it not?
This isn’t to point out the future predicting powers of the Spin (well…there is that, of course), but rather to underscore how predictable this team under Mike Tomlin has become.
Tomlin pointed out this week he wouldn’t change the rules to allow for reviewing penalty calls because it would go against the general entertainment virtues of the National Football League.
Good point, Coach.
So, we would ask this of the Rooney family. How much entertainment value is there in a team where we can predict the outcomes of a season’s schedule each and every year?
The Rooneys’ Favorite Play
Can you imagine the reaction to the Rooney family every time the stations post up the hackneyed graphic underscoring the stability of the Steelers organization?
“Quick, grab the grandkids…come to the television, they’re playing our slide!”
Yes…it’s the “Only three coaches since 1969” graphic with the faces of Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.
Stability. Quality. A championship club, right?
The problem with the graphic is the announcers never get the story right. The Steelers fired coaches as rapidly as flapjacks flipping at the annual Firefighters Pancake Breakfast…before Noll arrived.
What was different about Coach Noll? Oh…he had about a 40% Super Bowl victory ratio in the 70’s. That was the secret to the birth of the storied Steelers stability.
What happened to Noll when his percentage slipped? Yes…he got the Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau “retirement” treatment.
“Hey Coach, make sure you come by on Alumni Day, will ya?”
And Bill Cowher? Before he was forced to draft Ben Roethlisberger, there was a similar restlessness about the sideline spitting field general.
“Uh, coach?” Steelers Nation was saying as his show, and lack of Lombardis was wearing down our souls, “a little offense, please?”
So, please forgive those of us who were around to see a man land on the moon, pet rocks actually get purchased and 40% Super Bowl victory ratios.
A decade is a heckuva long time to wander around without water in the desert.
We’re getting older, and closer to our demise, while you try to figure out how to work a clock, make challenges and draft and coach All-Pro linebackers and cornerbacks.
Who’s The Boss?
There really is nothing wrong with being a players’ coach. Caring for your players is part of being an exceptional leader.
But, there is a problem when it comes in the way of actually doing your job. This week, much maligned kicked Chris Boswell finally succumbed to a mysterious ailment that allowed the team to put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Again…here is what you read in the Spin in September.
How did our kicking team turn into…this? Has anyone forgotten to tell Chris Boswell he is contractually obligated to make field goals…and cough, cough…extra points? The kiss of death for kickers is when a head coach needs to go on record saying, “I trust him.” That usually occurs shortly before the coach calls the general manager and says, “How’s that search coming along?”
The Boz has been a great one for the Steelers and a fan favorite for the past few years and he certainly earned his rich, fat contract this offseason. But, the place for kickers to find themselves is in incense-filled caves at the top of distant alpine peaks…not on an NFL football field.
Yet, instead of sifting through the dozens of alternatives (Boswell was pulled off of the street once himself), the team suffered through unreliable, game-altering, poor kicking the entire season.
This is what happens to an organization when from the very top to the bottom they elevate a “commitment to stability” above a “commitment to excellence”.
The result of this is you end up with an underperforming, barely above mediocre, rarely hit the big prize organization. It’s a great team to hang out with, it’s just not championship grade.
What’s At Risk?
I think few who have read this will argue that Steelers Nation is among the strongest, most avid fan bases in all of sports.
Unfortunately, it would be a mistake to calculate this will be the case forever. Steelers Nation came to be from a foundation of the 40% Super Bowl victory ratio of the 70’s.
That started a craze that was passed from parents, to kids to grandkids and even great grandchildren.
Yet, those generations who were there in 1970’s won’t be around forever. And neither will be the expectations of Super Bowl wins that was part of the tradition.
Congratulations to JuJu Smith-Schuster for winning the team’s MVP award. It’s an amazing accomplishment for a player of his young age.
Certainly, when it comes to generating pure joy on the team, Smith-Schuster is the runaway favorite for the trophy. His cheerful demeanor, love of the sport, dynamic personality and his ability to make the most unbelievable clutch plays makes him the ringer for this acknowledgement.
Still, he’s wise enough to probably look to both Big Ben and Antonio Brown and give them a knowing glance.
Roethlisberger demonstrated in the Raiders game who the true, perennial MVP is, and certainly everyone knows it’s Brown that draws the double and triple teams.
But, take nothing away from Smith-Schuster. He’s growing up to be everyone’s favorite Steeler.
What About The Game, Stupid?
Oh yeah. The Steelers need to hope, beg and steal the most adequately earned right to the AFC North Division Championship from the grips of the Baltimore Ravens.
Which means we have to all shame ourselves by waving Cleveland Browns pom-poms. No…we’re not bitter at all about that Oakland Raiders loss.
Then, there’s this little thing about having to take care of our own business by defeating a Cincinnati Bengals team that would draw tremendous pleasure by putting us out of our misery.
If we’re not up by three touchdowns at the half, this will be a miserable game to watch.
Well…it’s a two-screen weekend for Steelers fans, folks. It’s not what we asked for, but it is what it is.
And, as always, even when it’s difficult: Go Steelers!