PITTSBURGH – These are the losses that are supposed to be crippling.
Lose at home to a team with a losing record and there goes your season.
But that’s what’s so deliciously deceptive about Sunday’s 35-32 loss at home to the New Orleans Saints.
If the Steelers can beat Cincinnati on the road next Sunday, this loss (and an earlier loss at home to Tampa Bay) will be nothing but rear-view mirror stuff.
Such is life in the NFL.
Sure, the Steelers dropped to 7-5, a game and a half behind the Bengals in the AFC North Division, but these teams play twice in the last month of the regular season, including a Dec. 28 game at Heinz Field.
Win the AFC North and no one will care whether you finished 1-3 or 4-0 against the NFC South Division. As predictably unpredictable as this season has been to date, the Steelers are 1-2 against the NFC South, with the lone win coming at Carolina and the two losses coming at home. Of course, it must be noted that a game at Atlanta on Dec. 14 likely will become Must Win No. 2 of the four remaining games.
“We have a four-game schedule,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “It was five, and we lost. You could say we’re 0-1, but have a four-game schedule. We have to take care of business and play better in all three phases. On offense, I need to play better. We’ll stick together and get this thing going.”
Not that they haven’t been here, done this in the recent sights through the rear-view mirror. Remember the first six games of this season? Only a three-game winning streak keeps the Steelers from looking up to .500 these days.
“We’ll look at it, make the necessary adjustments, find the cohesion necessary to be effective and win tough games in December,” was how Coach Mike Tomlin capsulized the current State of the Steelers.
Sounds simple enough, especially from a guy who has lived the same mantra from Day 1.
So, instead of looking at this as a squandered opportunity, look at it instead as somehow staying afloat when the rest of Mother Earth is swimming like a rock.
“We know we can only control what we can control,” said Mr. Obvious Le’Veon Bell. “We missed an opportunity tonight. It was a great opportunity for us to get another win and we didn’t do that. We’re still not going to look outside in other stadiums or look for help outside of ourselves.”
If Bell and the Steelers would have looked outside, they’d have seen the Bengals beating Tampa by a point, while the Ravens and Browns were both losing. The metaphor is safe with me, though.
“I don’t care about those other teams,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “I’m not in their locker room. All I’m concerned about is this locker room.”
“We still control our destiny so we just have to take it one game at a time,” Bell continued. “As long as we do that, we’ve got another big game next week. We’ve got to take care of business. We can’t look forward to four or five weeks ahead. We’ve got to worry about the next game on our schedule.”
“You can be mad that we lost this game, but all you can focus on is these next four games,” Heyward said. “We’re not worried about what other people do. We’re not worried about what our standings are. We’re just trying to win game after game. And we didn’t win today.”
But the world won’t end because of it. The sun will still rise in the East and set in the West. And the Steelers will travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals next Sunday in the next (first?) in a line of Must Win games.
Roethlisberger, the guy who proclaimed this a four-game season only days after calling it a five-game season, has been through some tough times on the way to the NFL’s version of the Promised Land.
So, what’s the difference, Roethlisberger was asked, between those championship teams and this one?
“I can’t say that we are not that team,” Roethlisberger said. “We are still moving, still going. We are where we are and we are going to keep fighting. The big thing is that we stay together and I don’t see that being an issue at all.”
Maybe this wasn’t such a crippling loss after all. It was a loss, for sure. And it will hurt all the way to they meet again today. But then, all bets are off. At least for another six days.?