Pre-season expectations often don’t mean a lot. Granted, they often prove accurate, typically when you’re referring to bad teams staying bad, but there is so much that can happen during the course of a season that can see the trajectory of a team deviate greatly from what was anticipated before the on-field process began.
Both positively and negatively. I recall a great deal of excitement for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, the year that they won their most recent Super Bowl, and whether or not they could be repeat champions. Repeats weren’t so rare. The New England Patriots did it earlier in the decade, and the Denver Broncos did it a decade earlier as John Elway rode off into the sunset with some hardware on each ring finger.
That season, they did actually get off to a great start, going 6-2 in the first half of the season. But then defensive injuries mounted, including to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, and they went on a five-game losing skid. They rebounded to win the final three games, but finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
That was a great and talented team that fell short of its expectations. The Steelers team of a decade later is hoping to have the opposite effect. Rather than coming off a Super Bowl, they missed the playoffs a year ago, and are being doubted by many on the outside. Even by the fans. But James Conner delivered a message to those fans when he was on ESPN yesterday.
“I would just tell them to have faith in us and believe in us, just stick with us”, he said. “It’s never going to be perfect. We’ll have ups and downs. You can’t escape that. I would tell them, you can’t escape the adversity, but just stick with us through the whole process”.
Later in the day, when he appeared on NFL Network, he stated things a little more strongly about the team’s 2019 ambitions when he was asked about a photo that teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster posted, under which the running back captioned that they were going to shock the world.
“I’m not guaranteeing nothing, but I think we have a great chance of going all the way. That’s what we play for. That’s why we show up every day. That’s the ultimate goal, is to get a ring”, Conner said. “I know a lot of people don’t think that we can do it with the pieces that we lost, just counting us out. We don’t mind it, though. We know that they’re counting us out, but that’s why I said we’re going to shock them, because I don’t think they’re expecting us to do what we’re about to do this year”.
Let’s not forget that this is a team that was 7-2-1 10 games into the season. They were in prime position to make it into the playoffs with a bye week. They even ended up beating the New England Patriots. A few plays go a different way and we’re talking about a very different 2018 season.
But however last year might have unfolded differently, 2019 is still going to be one in which they don’t have Antonio Brown. That’s going to take a group effort to overcome, make no mistake, but Conner and the rest believe that they have the personnel and the camaraderie and belief in one another to get the job done, regardless of who else might believe it possible.