Not only had the Steelers lost an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North standings, they had been totally dismantled by the Patriots.
"It's incredibly humbling," said safety Troy Polamalu.
"If it's a duck, it's a duck. We got our butts kicked," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"We haven't gotten whupped like this in a long time," said linebacker James Farrior. "We couldn't stop anything."?
Forget the fourth-quarter window dressing of Ben Roethlisberger?s three touchdown passes, this was at least a 20-point beating..
New England scored on its opening possessions of each half, the times when tone is set. And they made it look easy on both occasions.
The pass rush often didn't get near New England quarterback Tom Brady, who was not sacked on 43 attempts. He was hurried three times.
When you give a quarterback of Brady's pedigree that kind of time, any secondary would be in trouble.
The lack of pressure wasn't for lack of trying. The Steelers just couldn't get there.
And that exposed a secondary that everyone already knew was mediocre, at best, way too much.
The Steelers couldn't cover the wide receivers. They couldn't cover the tight ends. They couldn't cover the backs out of the backfield.
If New England coach Bill Belichick had come onto the field and run some pass patterns, it's like the Steelers couldn't have covered him, either.
So where do the Steelers go from here?
The fixes aren't likely to be found on this roster. You can scheme all you want, but, in the end, if you don't have the players to make it work, the end result will show.
If young defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler were ready to play, they'd be playing already. Then again, they couldn't have done much worse than the trio of Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and William Gay did Sunday night.
Does this mean the Steelers' season is lost?
Not at all. But they have some serious flaws that Brady clearly exposed.
Until this point, many of the passing yards they had allowed had come in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers sitting on a lead.
But Brady played the first three quarters as if the Patriots were trying to mount a fourth-quarter comeback. The Patriots spread the field and Brady picked the Steelers apart.
It wasn't a new means of attack for the Patriots, who have done that to the Steelers before. But the Steelers obviously haven't figured out how to counter it.
Not every team is built to do that. But New England, Indianapolis, San Diego and a few others certainly are, particularly if the Steelers are unable to generate a pass rush.
© There's no more defending placekicker Jeff Reed.
It's one thing to miss 40-plus-yard attempts. Even though kicking has come a long way in the past couple of decades, those are far from gimmees.
But when you miss a 26-yard attempt ? particularly in a situation such as the one Reed did against the Patriots, with the Steelers trailing 20-3, ? it's inexcusable.
That miss seemed to take a little wind out of the Steelers' sails. And two plays later, Brady hit Brandon Tate for a 45-yard pass that was really the only deep ball the Patriots attempted all night.
© Three dropped passes in the end zone didn't help matters for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger threaded a perfect pass to Mike Wallace in the second quarter that was dropped. He followed that up with a pass to Antwaan Randle El on the next play that Randle El had in his hands before dropping.
The Steelers settled for a 22-yard field goal instead.
Then, in the third quarter, right before Reed's missed field goal, Heath Miller dropped one in the end zone.
If the Steelers score touchdowns on those drives instead of coming away with three points, the outcome may have been different, even with the defense allowing Brady to throw the ball all over the field.
© Of the Steelers' injuries in this game, a hip pointer suffered by linebacker Lawrence Timmons would seem to be the most serious.
Hines Ward's concussion had the biggest impact in this game, and if James Sanders doesn't draw a fine for that helmet-to-helmet hit, the league should be ashamed of itself. Without Ward, the Steelers' offense struggled for a half to find any continuity.
Butler (quad) and Arnaz Battle (shoulder) also left, but Timmons' injury could limit a player who has arguably been the team's best defensive player.
With the run-happy Oakland Raiders visiting Heinz Field next Sunday, Timmons would be a big loss.
The Steelers have to put the loss to the Patriots behind them and move on to the next challenge. If Timmons is unable to play, that challenge would be a lot more difficult.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)