Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola successfully rationalized away the Steelers previous prime time loss to the New Orleans Saints. He did so by soothing Steelers Nation with a host of explanations:
- The Steelers had played a defending Super Bowl Championship team with its back to the wall
- Pittsburgh had hung with that self-same champion for three quarters
- And even then, a couple of broken plays here and there could have changed the outcome.
The Saints game, Labriola insisted, should be taken with no greater gravity than the Steelers 2005 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Which is to say, the Steelers looked bad that night, but ultimately had the last laugh.
Alas, it will be impossible for the erstwhile Steelers scribe to offer a palliative words to pacify Pittsburgh after the Steelers loss to New England.
Taking a Cue from Ken Beatrice
How bad was it? For that let’s go a back to some logic established long ago some 230 miles south of the ‘Burgh.
DC area natives from their late 20’s and up will remember long time WMAL/WTEM sports radio voice Ken Beatrice. One of the many things that Beatrice never tired of telling his listeners was that, “Very few teams win games in the NFL, it is usually a case of the other team losing.”
Beatrice was right. Without taking any credit away from the victors, think back to the Steelers other losses this season and even going back to the five game losing streak of the 2009 season.
If the Steelers make one or other two plays in those contests, the outcome changes.
No such consolation exists for Steelers Nation in the wake of loss to the Patriots.
- Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the rest of the New England Patriots came into Heinz Field, slipped the Steelers over their collective knee, and gave them and old-fashioned spanking.
Forget about the 4th quarter scoring spree. That was tantamount to cries of “no, no I’ll be good,” that accompany a true spanking setting in.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were thoroughly outplayed and out coached by the New England Patriots from stat to finish.
Categorizing the Loss
It is hard to say which is worse.
The need to rank this loss with the other true ass-whippings the Steelers have suffered in the post-Chuck Noll era, or the need to rank the loss along side the other true ass-whippings the Steelers have suffered at the hands of the New England Patriots during the post-Chuck Noll era.
Leo Tolstoy, Meet Tom Brady
Should the Steelers play that Patriots again, Modern Libraries might want to ask Tom Brady to write the sequel to War and Peace, because he might as well have begun penning a Russian novel with the time the Steelers gave him to throw.
I do not presume to know more than Dick LeBeau or Mike Tomlin about defensive game planning, but I need not to declare that their plan failed.
- Credit the Patriots line for holding the Steelers defenders at bay
- Credit New England coaches for keeping the Steelers off balance
– when New England ran Pittsburgh was prepared for pass, when New England passed, Pittsburgh was ready to defend the run –
- Question Tomlin and LeBeau for the inordinate number of times when they left three defensive lineman to rush five or more Patriot blockers.
The Steelers barely touched Tom Brady all night, but it is no secret that the few drives where the Steelers defense contested control of the game were the ones where Steeler defenders got some penetration.
The Zone Blitz has always been vulnerable to short underneath routes. To compensate, it looks like Dick LeBeau held more of his linebackers back in coverage.
If the Steelers do play the Patriots again this year, and that is an “if,” then might we humbly suggest a different strategy?
Injuries Are, In Fact, No Excuse
We all know Tomlin’s credo, “Injuries are no excuse. The standard of expectation does not change.”
While missing Max Starks, Chris Kemoatu and Hines Ward certainly hurt, last night’s game vindicated what Mike Tomlin has preached since day one.
- “How’s that,” you ask?
Those injuries did not cause Randal El and Mike Wallace to drop touchdown passes or Emmanuel Sanders run the wrong route – in the end zone.
Playing with an entirely new left side on the offensive line is never easy, but Roethlisberger arguably had his best protection early in the game – when his throws were the least accurate.
Finally, the absence of Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel was keenly felt, but who can blame the Steelers getting suckered on a 3 yard quarterback draw at the goal line on injury?
Patriots in Pole Position
Both teams entered last night with a chance to establish themselves as one of the AFC elite.
The Patriots simultaneously showed they belonged there and that the Steelers are not ready for Prime Time.
Sometimes the truth hurts.