Well, the hopes and the near-improbable dream of going 4-0 came to a crashing halt when the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a tough loss to the division foe, the Baltimore Ravens, 17-14.
While at the beginning of the season a 3-1 start without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would have been welcomed with open arms, this 3-1 start brought more disappointment than I could imagine. Was it just losing to the hated Ravens that magnified the loss? Who knows.
Some observations and overreactions from the game:
1. All talks of the Steelers not needing Roethlisberger need to cease and desist: First of all, allow me to say I think Charlie Batch is an excellent guy and a great backup QB. Batch has done a lot for the Pittsburgh community since his arrival back to his hometown in 2002.
However, Batch is a backup QB, key point being backup. Yes, Batch looked sharp against the Tampa Bay Bucs, but those were the Bucs, a young defense still trying to develop an identity for themselves.
Against a veteran Ravens' defense, Batch could not do as much. Outside of the 93-yard drive that culminated with Rashard Mendenhall's second touchdown, Batch looked lost for most of the game.
One of the favorite things of the media the past week was referencing past Steelers QB like Cliff Stoudt, Bubby Brister, and Kent Graham, and the Steelers would still win games. That just isn't so. This offense sorely misses Roethlisberger and they should welcome him back warmly this week.
2. Bruce Arians, please stay with this same philosophy: However, just because Roethlisberger comes back this week does not mean the Steelers should revert back to the offense of 2009. Arians has called on running back Rashard Mendenhall a lot for the first four games and that should continue even after the bye week. Mendenhall has proven he can handle a heavy workload.
The offensive line should also stay the same. Doug Legursky has played much better than Trai Essex and Legursky should be kept in the starting lineup until further notice. Maurkice Pouncey did not have his best game today against the stout Ravens' defensive line but he will definitely be better when the two teams meet again in December.
I have criticized Arians heavily for several years for his lack of creativity and over-reliance on Roethlisberger to make plays. If Arians had any doubts about Mendenhall's ability, they should be erased now.
Chances are, Roethlisberger will be rusty from not working with the team for over a month so the Steelers would logically try to ease him back into the offense. However, logic and Arians are two words seldom seen together. We can all hope Arians will not try to rely on Roethlisberger as heavily as he has done in the past but that remains to be seen.
3. The defense isn't invincible: All week, media outlets published stories on how great this Steelers defense is. With a healthy Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, all the forced turnovers and great outside pass rush, this defense is on the caliber of the one that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. However, on the final drive of the game today, the Steelers defense looked passive and tired.
Polamalu was seldom mentioned as was the pass-rush. Yes, the defense forced two turnovers, but they could not stop the Ravens from getting to the end zone with ease with less than two minutes to go in the game. The final drive by the Ravens looked very similar to the losses of the 2009 Steelers in Chicago and against the Raiders.
Unlike last season, the Steelers could not pin an excuse on injuries. Today's game now marks the third straight game that the Steelers allowed a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. Unlike the first two such instances, however, this time it cost them a win.
4. Jeff Reed isn't doing himself any favors: Just like in the aforementioned game in Chicago last season, Reed missed two field goals in the second half. However, to Reed's credit, he was kicking toward the windy part of Heinz Field.
Reed has won eight games for the Steelers in the final two minutes or overtime with his field goals and has proved to be the one of the few men who can kick amidst the winds of Heinz Field.
Reed of course is in a contract year and today didn't earn him any leverage points. Last season after the Bears game (second game of the year), Reed only missed two more times the rest of the season. Hopefully Reed can bounce back and finish the year strong.
For all those who think Reed should be gone quickly, I only have two names for you: Kris Brown and Todd Peterson. Neither guys could consistently tame the winds of Heinz Field like Reed could. If there is anyone who could do it better than Reed at Heinz Field, then sign him. Until then, look at this as an anomaly.
5. The bye week came at the perfect time: Coaches always claim it is better to go into a bye week with a win and they would be right. After all, who wants to ever lose a game?
However, the Steelers could definitely benefit from this loss. For one, there will be absolutely zero QB controversy when Roethlisberger comes back. Roethlisberger will get an extra week of practice before making his 2010 debut. Secondly, the defense got humbled after a terrific start and will have a lot to work on. Third, all talks of the Steelers being AFC favorites will end for the time being.
I personally think the Steelers play much better when no one, especially the media, does not believe in them. In 2005, no "experts" believed that the Steelers could go to Indianapolis and win a playoff game.
In 2008, no "experts" believed that the Steelers could defeat the Ravens three times in one season. Early this season, most "experts" believed that the Steelers would be lucky to be 2-2 after four games, likely 1-3.
The Steelers are 3-1 and while it isn't the 4-0 start the Steelers envisioned, they should still keep their heads up and be ready to go against the Cleveland Browns in two weeks. As far as they are concerned, it is still them against the world.
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