Just as the patient was about to be declared dead, the heart monitor sprung to life.
Wait, Steelers Nation! There’s a pulse.
Albeit a dim one. Dim like a candle in the wind. One slight breeze and you can start digging the hole.
Then again, this is the proving-to-be-feeble North division of the American Football Conference.
And the North remembers. At least somewhat that the Pittsburgh Steelers have always proved to be a threat in this division.
So…how much should we read into the Steelers 27-3 drubbing of the now 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals?
We should read it long and deep like a Tolstoy novel because the Steelers beat a stinkin’ 0-3 team. That’s not always a given under the reign of Mike Tomlin.
So there’s that.
But, what will really matter is if they fare well against the Baltimore Ravens. A win here would give the Steelers a 2-0 record in the woeful North division, which remarkably could strengthen their odds tremendously for post-season play.
A home loss against the Ravens? Well…that would leave the Black and Gold with a 1-4 record and at the very minimum of dismal news would reassert their position as one of the league’s worst.
What will this team’s fate be under young Mason Rudolph? How will he fare against Lamar Jackson? Let’s give those weighty thoughts a Spin.
The Really Real Fans
It’s always amusing to me to see the trolls rise from under the bridge whenever the Steelers experience a critical win. And, although the Bengals are a miserably, poor team at the moment, make no mistake, that was a critical win for the Steelers.
It’s certainly enough for the bridge trolls to start posting, “See…all you haters…the REAL FANS…never gave up on our team, our coach, our front office, our ball boys, our paid announcers, even Steely McBeam. We NEVER say anything mean about the Steelers. We are the Really, Real Fans.”
I guess apparently you’re supposed to witness something like the opening day debacle of the Steelers loss to the New England Patriots by a score of 33-3 and walk out of the stadium whistling and skipping and saying, “My, those rookies looked great in their new uniforms. Gee, I love this team.”
It reminds me when I was fresh out of college in the 90’s and I was working at a podunk newspaper in Lake Tahoe as a reporter and photographer. When I discovered the Steelers were coming to Oakland to play the Raiders that year, I somehow finagled some press passes for the game.
Although, I was a complete fraud on the sidelines with my obviously non-professional camera, it allowed me the opportunity to be yards away from the likes of Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson and Levon Kirkland. It was pure joy.
Unfortunately, on that foggy day, the Steelers lost and as the field was clearing I managed to pass by Myron Cope on his way to the locker room. His head was down and he looked to be in a state of depression before looking up to me and mumbling something that was a combination of, “that was terrible”, “complete disappointment” and “double yoi.”
In that moment, I realized the great Steelers legend was not only a dedicated, professional sports journalist, but he was a REAL fan. He was suffering from the loss, just like me, and all of us.
Real fans are not mindless, drooling drones, who have no dissenting opinions, and never get down or disappointed with their team.
It’s actually quite the opposite. True. Real fans never give up supporting their team despite failure (you’ve got to honor Cleveland Browns fans for this). Yet, they also care enough about their team so that lack of quality is embarrassing, and losses hurt.
Winning. Losing. It’s a shared experience between the team and its fans. We grieve together. We cheer together.
And, that’s being a real fan.
The Thin Line
Most Steelers fans would be happy if they never had to hear the word “obviously” come out of Tomlin’s mouth again.
It wasn’t too long ago we were similarly weary of former head coach Bill Cowher abusing the phrase, “There’s a thin line…” over and over and over and over again.
But, in this case with the Steelers this year, this thin line phrase is appropriate.
There is a thin line between this offense being formative…or as we’ve experienced, totally inept. A lot of it has to do with the successful conversion of third downs. A catch here. A yard there. And things would have been much different.
The defense, as well, has been dominant in many ways when it comes to quarterback pressures and creating turnovers. The thin line has been their inability to get the plays or stops when needed. A catch here. A yard there.
There truly is a thin line between this team turning things around in dramatic fashion, or reaching the dark, dank depths of the NFL cellar.
This game against Baltimore will expose this thin line in grand fashion.
Three Times A Charm?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the road to the Super Bowl used to go through Pittsburgh. I know? Crazy, right?
Because, it’s been going through New England for many, many years now. And, that town has proven to be the gravesite of any Steelers Super Bowl aspirations for just as long.
Sorry folks. I don’t see that changing anytime soon for Pittsburgh either. If, by any chance, this team is able to somehow limp into the playoffs, they will be snuffed out by the Patriots on their home turf.
Which is why we need a Plan B, and this is where our frenemies the Ravens fit in.
You see, the Ravens have been one of the few teams in the league who have been able to go into New England and come out with victories. Unlike us, Baltimore actually has the ability to knock the Patriots out of the playoffs despite home field advantage.
So…here’s the plan.
The Steelers need to WIN the AFC North. They can’t be a wildcard. That prize we want to go to Baltimore. That would make them a lower seed in the case we both make it to round two and as the wildcard, they would be off to Boston.
We take care of our business, as we have proved capable of beating anyone BUT the Patriots in the playoffs.
If the Ravens win as well in the divisional round, that would set us up for a conference championship game in Pittsburgh…where, the third time in a season is hopefully a charm for Steelers Nation.
I know. That’s so Raven. But, when your team is 1-3, all you have is pipe dreams and wild calculations.
The Grass Is Greener?
For those who muse on the idea the grass would be greener for the Steelers if Mike Tomlin moved onto different pastures, the game against the Bengals should have been a stark reminder that things don’t always work out like that.
Imagine if you had Marvin Lewis as your coach for years and years and years and years. And, throughout his term, the Bengals had just enough sparks of promise here and there, to keep Lewis aboard the ship.
Last year, the fans finally got their way. Lewis was cast off and he was replaced by promising coaching talent Zac Taylor.
How is that going Bengals fans? 0-4. The grass remains brown.
I must confess. I despise the Ravens less now that they have Lamar Jackson as their quarterback. He is entertaining to watch! There. I said it.
The truth is now that Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco have departed, they are more difficult to dislike. Fortunately, they still have John Harbaugh roaming the sidelines in order to stiffen my resolve.
Regardless, this is one game to get foaming-at-the-mouth excited about.
The Ravens? The Steelers? A game with significant playoff implications so early on in the season?
It doesn’t get much better than this. We’ve got the perfect rival. Will there be a Steelers revival?