Pittsburgh Steelers fans have come to expect slow starts from the team at this point. While it might not always be reflected in their win-loss record, their performance and execution on the field clearly tends to be lacking in the early goings as they get progressively better as the season unfolds.
That was the case this past year, except for a couple of key differences. For one thing, it did show up in the early record. For another, they struggled at the end of the year as well, which has been highly uncharacteristic of the late stages of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. But for now we are talking about that slow start.
After drawing to a tie in the season opener with the Cleveland Browns thanks in part to a team effort to squander a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and Chris Boswell missing a field goal that would have won the game in overtime, the Steelers proceeded to lose two of their next three games to finish the first quarter of the year with a 1-2-1 record.
They were at the bottom of the division at that time, the Browns also 1-2-1 but the Steelers technically with a worse division record for the tiebreaking procedure. While those two losses came to teams that would ultimately make the playoffs, including the Kansas City Chiefs, who would be in the Super Bowl had Dee Ford not lined up offside a la Bud Dupree, the fact remains that they lost.
And both of them were at home, but that’s a whole other topic.
The name of the game at the time was basically playing only one good quarter out of four. Most of the Steelers’ success occurred in the second quarter before slowing down in the second half. They mounted comebacks against the Chiefs and Ravens to tie at halftime only to fall away behind in the second half. They nearly blew a big lead in between those two losses against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For one reason or another, things were simply not up to speed. Part of it was adjusting to having a new offense and a new play-caller in Randy Fichtner, surely. A new starting running back, new inside linebacker, new safety—rookie safety for that matter—there were certainly some things that would require time for them to be able to adjust to, but they don’t fully account for why they only earned one and a half victories in their first four games.
Especially when you consider that they went on to win their next six in a row, even though it wasn’t exactly a murderers’ row. The only team they faced in that six-game winning stretch that made the playoffs was the Ravens. The Carolina Panthers had a good record at the time of their matchup, but they tanked afterward.