I hate January. It’s the worst month of the year. The Christmas tree sits in the corner of the living room with the ornaments and lights long since removed, and the only thing lower than the stock market is the temperature. And now we don’t even have Steeler games to offer a distraction.
Judging by most of the response to our TribLive Radio morning show, there are two schools of thought about the loss in Denver. Some feel the team really blew a great opportunity, many seem to think that they overcame a lot to get that far. Actually, both are true.
When you look at how the Cowboys season unraveled when Tony Romo got hurt, or the Bengals without Andy Dalton, you can appreciate what the Steelers did with Ben Roethlisberger missing 4 starts. They were 3-1. They went 5-1 in games in which the starting quarterback didn’t finish the game. And that’s just the quarterback position. They were using their third of four placekickers by the season opener, lost two-fifths of the starting offensive line, their top two running backs, and their team MVP wide receiver. We all get sick of the “next man up” mantra week after week but even the most calloused observer has to admit they lived up to that this year.
Even with that they needed help from the Jets to get into the playoffs and help from a self-destructing Bengals team to advance. Maybe they did go further than anyone should have reasonably expected.
But does any of that matter when there is less than 10 minutes left in a playoff game that you are winning, you have the ball and are driving, and you can’t finish the deal? That’s where the folks who think they blew a great opportunity are right. They overcame many obstacles to put themselves in a good position to get to the AFC Championship game against a Patriots team that has shown some vulnerability late in the season. And the they let it slip through their fingers.
The team feels that way themselves. The locker room was devastated afterwards. Mike Tomlin shed tears. He still appeared to be down four days later for his season ending press conference. They know. And I’m beginning to agree with them. Immediately after the game I thought they had given it a good fight. As the week has gone on, I’m leaning toward they squandered a great chance.
And it’s all because of the quarterback. The quarterback is everything. Since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted, he or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning has been in every Super Bowl but one. In 50 years of Super Bowls, only two Steeler quarterbacks have won. And I’m not counting on a third one to come along anytime soon after Ben. That makes the end of another season all that more difficult to take. The window is closing on the Roethlisberger era. It’s not shut yet but there aren’t any guarantees. Right now it’s hard to take solace in the expectations that this team should be good again next year. In the end, the Steelers overcame a lot but ultimately failed to take advantage of what they had accomplished.
On the bright side, with a little more time on my hands this weekend, maybe I’ll get that tree out of the living room.