It’s been four days since the Steelers lost 28-21 to the defending champion Patriots in New England. And I’m still struggling to determine the answer to the same question I asked myself immediately after the game ended.
Do I feel better about the Steelers now after that game, or worse?
Looking at that question regarding the outcome of that evening, I’m not even sure it can be answered. At first blush, I think Steelers fans should feel better about the game itself because many of them and media types (myself included) thought the Steelers would lose by almost a double the margin.
But when analyzing the contest, the amount of lost opportunities lost by Pittsburgh is mind numbing. Two missed field goals. Drive stalling penalties and stupid trick play attempts. Empty red zone trips without touchdowns. An inability to get Tom Brady off the field on third down with any regularity.
So let’s get beyond the game. Pittsburgh lost. The Steelers were big underdogs going in. They normally stink in their road opener anyway. Plus, factor in they were at Gillette against Brady and they’ve never been victorious under those circumstances. On top of that, even better teams than the Steelers would’ve struggled in that hostile DeflateGate fueled environment.
Instead, what did the game say about Pittsburgh’s chances for the remaining 15 games? And, frankly, I feel a bit better about the club’s outlook the rest of the season than I anticipated coming out of the pre-season.
Perhaps that’s because my expectations sunk so drastically during August. Going into training camp, I thought this was an 11-win division contender. But after the pre-season concluded and all the injuries and suspensions piled up on offense, I modified that outlook. Also factoring in the terrible play of Keith Butler’s defense, and I believed we were looking at an outfit that’d be lucky to win nine games and scratch out the last Wild Card spot.
But against the Patriots we saw that offensive depth respond. DeAngelo Williams looked even better than optimists projected as Le’veon Bell’s sub by racking up 127 yards in his Steeler debut. Even without suspended receiver Martavis Bryant the Steelers totaled 330 passing yards. And while Cody Wallace was just so-so, the center position wasn’t a train wreck as Maurkice Pouncey missed his first of eight games.
Of course the kicking game was a negative in Josh Scobee’s first time suiting up in black and gold. He missed two kicks Shaun Suisham would normally make. And the defense was dreadful. But was it any worse than we thought? Not me anyway. Going into Thursday night, I figured Brady and his Patriot teammates could’ve put a 40-spot on the board without breaking a sweat.
Yes, the Patriots probably could’ve scored more if they needed to do so. But will the 49ers in a 1:00 eastern time start with Colin Kaepernick at the helm do the same? Will San Francisco’s revamped defense snuff out a trick play or hang with Ben Roethlisberger’s goal line play fakes the way the a well schooled Bill Belichick unit did in New England?
I’d say the answer to both questions is likely “no.”
We all knew what Pittsburgh’s obvious, ugly warts were coming out of the pre-season. And they were very much on display against New England Thursday night. Yet in spite of all of them, the Steelers stayed within a touchdown on a night which appeared to be their most obvious loss on the schedule when it was released.
With that being said, I still expect this year to be a maddening roller coaster ride similar to what we have see from Mike Tomlin’s crew the last three seasons. I still expect the defense to be one of the worst in the league. But my faith in the offense overcoming their teammates on “D” has been renewed a bit after it wavered with the losses of that suspended/injured quartet.
So yes, after one game every Steeler fan should feel secure in muttering “it could’ve been better.” In coming weeks though, I expect that…marginally… it will be. And against lesser competition than the reigning Super Bowl champions that should be enough to at least squeak into the post season.