8 Dates to Remember in the Week Following the Steelers Loss to the Ravens
With a compact schedule, NFL games take on a greater magnitude than those in others sports. Each contest represents over six percent of the campaign, which translates to a simple NFL truism: They're all important.
Nevertheless, I offer what feels like a voice of solitude, amidst a rash of emergency alerts regarding the Steelers flying across the NFL airwaves, when I say to Steelers Country:
"It's not that bad. We'll still be fine."
In the past, coaches of various franchises have taken drastic, symbolic steps to help their teams heal after blowout losses, including burying the game film in a box under mounds of dirt.
I repeat, "We'll be fine." But Tomlin and the team need to watch the film before they bury it. Nobody who witnessed today's loss can deny that improvement is necessary.
Philosophically, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco needed to beat Ben Roethlisberger as badly as any signal-caller needed to beat another all season. Mission accomplished, as the Ravens' right-arm man made precise throws and good decisions, taking advantage of holes in the Steelers' secondary.
What helped Flacco immensely was the combined play of the Ravens' offensive line and ineffectiveness of the Steelers' defensive front. At no point in the game was this more evident than Baltimore's third touchdown, where announcers pointed out Ray Rice, lined up wide with man coverage prior to the play.
The man dubbed Fluke-o in the Steel City was simply sublime. He shook off the debris of a horrible history against Pittsburgh for one afternoon, and in the aforementioned play, took time to check his options before hitting Rice, who had adjusted his route back out toward the sideline and scurried into the endzone, diving to hit the pylon and putting Baltimore up 21-7.
It was a microcosm of the game to that point.
Mendenhall's fumble and Ben's interception at the start of the second half served notice that it simply wasn't Pittsburgh's day.
The offensive line continued to get pushed around, leaving fans to wonder if the team is going to be burdened with inconsistency in the trenches again.
The defensive line was gashed, most evident on a burrowing run up the middle by the man once known as Ricky Williams.
Make no mistake, the Steelers, to paraphrase a quote once used by Joe Theismann after a brutal loss, "got their butts handed to them on a platter—and the tray was bent!"
For the next week, plenty of articles are going to ask Steelers Country not to panic, only to paint a portrait of a team in complete disarray. Writers will be accurate in their assessments, except for when they speak of the big red button they would love to have you press:
Don't do it. Steelers fans—don't press the button! Even when they tell you not to press it, they'll make you feel like you should.
Already I've read articles from journalists who are saying "I told you so." These doomsayers were very well-hidden in the hours before the game, only coming out of the woodwork as a matter of circumstantial convenience.
The Steelers were AFC favorites at eight o'clock this morning—and they're among the favorites now.
Without downplaying the brutal loss, it's also important to look ahead to a season that still promises success, great memories and additional hardware.
After a Sunday, September 11, 2011, that rattled many Steelers fans to their core, here are seven other dates that can remind fans in Pittsburgh not to throw in the Terrible Towels.
September 10, 1989 and August 31, 1997: Been Here, Done This
The 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers were among the last great feats of legendary head coach Chuck Noll.
They didn't have a 1,000-yard runner or receiver. In fact, their offense was led by Bubby Brister, who had more interceptions than touchdowns on the campaign.
The defense was opportunistic with the rising of Greg Lloyd and Rod Woodson, but the team was outscored by over 60 points.
On September 10, 1989, this squad—a shell of the talent fielded by the franchise today—opened their season against the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers gathered five first downs and only 53 yards. They were doomed to lose from the start, when Clay Matthews returned a fumble three yards to give the Browns a 7-0 lead.
It would be the only score they needed, but not close to the only touchdown they'd amass.
David Grayson returned another fumble for a touchdown. Three more rushing touchdowns and an interception score all added up to a 51-0 blowout win for Cleveland at Three Rivers Stadium.
A synonym for embarrassment in the Steel City was the box score for this contest.
In fact, Week 2 was equally disconcerting, as the Bengals blew out Noll's squad 41-10.
To remember the 1989 Steelers team as a playoff contender (and nearly playing in the AFC Championship Game) seems unrealistic given their start, but they turned things around. They focused on their deficiencies, got better, and committed themselves to salvaging the season.
In fact, the Men of Steel returned the favor, though not quite as demonstratively, defeating the Browns in Cleveland. The 17-7 win on October 15th was in utter contrast to the season's start.
In other words, the 2011 Steelers and fans can take note: If the 1989 team could turn things around, today's defending AFC Champions need not overreact after one game.
The 1989 team was a proud installment in the franchise's history, coming within minutes of the conference championship—if not for the late heroics of a Denver quarterback known for fourth quarter playoff "drives."
In 1997, Kordell Stewart took over the reins of quarterback. As it turns out, the season was a great success. The Steelers, who began the year with a stagnant offense (a "Slash" trademark as it would turn out after the year), got better.
In one of the most exciting seasons in franchise history, the team began the year against the Dallas Cowboys, who had beaten them 20 months earlier in Arizona at Super Bowl XXX. In a game marked by the fan base's desire for vengeance, Dallas won.
The score was 37-7 before a stunned home crowd, an even more stunning result than the loss in Baltimore. And, this time around, it was the Ravens who sought revenge.
Chin up, Pittsburgh. Lesser installments of this proud franchise have overcome worse.
September 18, 2011: The Perfect Tonic
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The perfect tonic after any defeat is a win, and the Steelers get right back to action on September 18th. Fans angry today over the team's deficiencies will be looking for progress and improvement heading into next week.
The team will certainly have a lot of film to dissect, and a hard week of practice is assured after such a blatant loss. Getting the bad taste out of their mouths after a bitter opening day is key.
The Seahawks looked pedestrian—moreover, horrible—against a 49ers team with low expectations. Alex Smith completed 75 percent of his passes, and minus a long touchdown pass by Tavaris Jackson, the score could have been much worse.
Relying on bad teams for wins is a recipe for defeat. Taking nothing for granted, the Steelers must use their home opener to regain the swagger evident among fans prior to the blowout in Baltimore.
Seattle is already on the Steelers' radar—fairly or not—given reactions about the Steelers win and the officiating as far back as Super Bowl XL.
In 2007, the Steelers shut the 'Hawks out, and a similar effort against a completely revamped and entirely different Seahawks team will go a long way in getting the optimism for a promising season back on track.
Any Steelers fan will tell you that the team tends to respond well when they're under the radar and expectations are low. I do not envy Pete Carroll, who has to bring his 0-1 squad into Heinz Field to face an angry and prideful champion.
January 15, 2011- It Matters More in the Playoffs
Steelers fans are feeling the same frustration now that Ravens fans have felt for three years. After multiple losses to Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore fans were able to emotionally erupt during the blowout loss.
Surely, it was a cathartic experience for fans who have been dealt mounds of heartache by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ravens fans should celebrate ravenously—they won a huge game!
Despite this result, things can change quickly on the NFL (Nothing For Long) landscape. And, no amount of cheering or exaltation over a regular season win will ever counteract the fact that the Steelers have owned the Ravens when it matters most:
Is this a sorry excuse to fight back against Baltimore fans this coming week? Does it smell of jealousy and copping out?
Absolutely. This is not a date that I would use in self-defense. For Steelers fans, the best response to Ravens fans would be, "You won at home. That's the game you should win."
With so many flaws so apparent, it helps to know the talent is in place to correct these mistakes and get things started in the right direction. While Baltimore fans rave and Steelers fans reflect on the game with enough ire to burn bird feathers, it is important to realize that a long season awaits, and the only real retribution for the Ravens will be a Super Bowl ring and/or win over Pittsburgh this January!
November 6, 2011- Prime Time Pain
In 2009, the Ravens asked the NFL not to schedule a prime time game in Pittsburgh the upcoming season. They were 0-3 in such games since 2005.
The NFL listened for a bit. In under two months, the arrangement will end.
The peak of domination came in 2007 when Ben Roethlisberger threw five first half touchdowns in a game that is just as well known for Hines Ward's vicious hit on safety Ed Reed.
On November 6, the Steelers get their rematch with Baltimore at Heinz Field under the lights. It's an ideal scenario historically, and a boisterous crowd will certainly have a blood lust. After all, it'll be time to turn the tables.
The great thing about football is that teams get better, and seasons are fluid. Things do not stay the same.
With a few corrections and the confidence that comes with winning football games will come a chance to even the season series.
September 10, 2011- Like the Optimism of Yesterday, Don't Lose Faith Today
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One day before the start of this season is a date to remember. Why?
Simple. The high hopes of yesterday should not be erased after one bad game.
Heading into today's game, Steelers fans had a lot of hope for the season. Their reasons were plenty and completely reasonable:
1) The offensive line was healthy and had the promise of getting better.
2) The receiving corp was as stacked as it has ever been for the franchise.
3) Ben Roethlisberger entered a season that had signs of being his best ever.
4) A dominant defense returned its starters.
There were concerns, but those were limited considering they didn't prevent the team from reaching the Super Bowl last season:
1) Is the offensive line a liability?
2) Is the secondary a liability?
A few experts have published articles noting a "predicted fall" in Baltimore for the reasons listed, but those areas of concern—much the same as 2010—have not limited the team's success and do not account for the main reason for today's loss:
A bad game.
With fair scrutiny but lots of hope, fans ranged from cautiously optimistic to hopelessly unrealistic (the "invincibility complex") with regard to expectations for 2011.
The 35-7 defeat certainly brought many fans back down to Earth.
It was an embarrassing defeat, and the team has lots to work on. And they'll work on it.
Nevertheless, none of the aforementioned factors, including the promise of a fantastic Pittsburgh Steelers season, were erased by one loss.
In 2004, the Steelers lost 30-13 in Baltimore. The starting quarterback was injured, and the team was overcome by mistakes and turnovers.
The quarterback who turned things around was the man who is the veteran leader of the team today. After 15 straight wins, that season went down as one of the finest in team history.
On September 11, 2011, the Steelers received a wake-up call from their bitter rivals.
Maybe, it's just what we needed.
September 7, 2003 and October 2, 1994: Champions Getting Beat Down
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Who can forget the opening day of 2003, when Lawyer Milloy- recently released by New England- and the Buffalo Bills beat New England 31-0?
Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady became a hot debate in Boston, a notion that seems silly today. However, a year removed from their first championship and notions of a fluky win over the Rams had fans wondering if Belichick and the Krafts were wrong to release their former veteran quarterback.
Later that season, the Patriots got perfect revenge, turning the score around in perfect symmetry. They defeated the Bills 31-0, a direct reversal of the opening day result during the last game of the season.
Later in that very campaign, the Pats began a record 21-game winning streak. In that stretch of victories came their second Lombardi Trophy.
While it was not opening day, the 1994 49ers lost a blowout game in Philadelphia, 40-8. On that October day, Steve Young confronted coach George Seifert on the sidelines, angry for having been pulled after an embarrassing team effort.
The ’94 49ers? Champions as well, as Steve Young rebounded to have one of the finest and most efficient passing seasons in history.