If the Steelers win their opener on Thursday in Foxboro, I’d argue that it would be the biggest road upset in the Mike Tomlin era.
There have been plenty of shocking road losses in the Tomlin era where Pittsburgh had been the big favorite. A few in Cleveland, Tennessee, and Oakland leap to mind. But road wins where the Steelers have been the big underdogs pale in comparison.
One does stick out though. It was that 23-20 upset of the Ravens in Baltimore with Charlie Batch at QB back in 2012. Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich were both hurt. The club had just puked up eight turnovers in a loss to the Browns the week before. Yet somehow Batch spun a masterful 276 yard performance, and the Steelers put up 17 second half points for a significant surprise win that kept them alive (momentarily) in the AFC North race.
The Vegas line for that one opened at -8.5 with the Ravens favored. It got down to -7 at kickoff.
And that’s exactly where the Steelers sit now. A touchdown underdog heading into what is expected to be a #DeflateGate induced cauldron at Gillette Stadium. Cam Heyward says the feeling is reminiscent. “It is a little bit like that because we had some of our guys out in that game, we didn’t have Ben, and we needed a lot of other guys to step up.” said Heyward reminding us of the looming Game 1 absences of star players such as Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Shaun Suisham, and Maurkice Pouncey. “In this case though, we do have #7.”
Yes. That’s true. But unfortunately for Heyward and his defensive mates a judge ruled that the NFL’s four game suspension of Tom Brady was unjust. So the Pats will have #12. That victory in New England was hailed almost as much as the actual Super Bowl win back in February which the team’s fans will be celebrating…no doubt maniacally.
“When they schedule this game to honor the defending champs, I’m sure the view from the outside perspective is that the visiting team is just supposed to be part of the show and play their part so to speak,” said Steelers tight end Heath Miller.
Good characterization. So will the Steelers be the Washington Generals to the Brady-fueled New England Globetrotters? “I think we are preparing to go in and play a good football game and win the game,” Miller stated.
Hardly Namath pool side. But by Heath’s normal intentionally dry standards, that was Matt Foley motivational speaker stuff!
Whether it’s playing the “us against the world” card, or clinging onto a reference point of some other upset, it’s best for the Steelers to leverage a mental edge now. After all, Pittsburgh’s winless history in Foxboro against Brady and that massive 55-31 beat down they endured up there in 2013 seems to be a daunting mental hurdle.
“We’ve been there. It’s one of the things we can’t re-do. That’s going to be a hostile environment. We’ve gotta come out hot. We can’t come out slow.” said offensive lineman Ramon Foster. “At the end of the day, it’s just them and us. And the best team is going to win.”
And therein lies the dilemma. It is just them vs the Steelers. And the Patriots appear to be the vastly superior team right now. Their shortcomings on defense seem to be exceeded by Pittsburgh’s. And Pittsburgh’s strengths on offense and special teams seem to weakened by injury and suspension.
For all those reasons New England comes off as a lay up bet to start 1-0 and hand Pittsburgh a defeat in their first road game of the season for a fourth straight year. Unless of course the Steelers can “play a different part, so to speak” like they did in Baltimore three years ago.