From the notebook of a sportswriter who really did believe his own pre-game nonsense about not getting upset by a Patriots blowout in the Pittsburgh Steelers' opener:
* And here I sit in my own ... well, let's just say I'm not taking it as well as I thought I would. And it wasn't even a blowout.
* Thing was, it could've been. The Patriots could've scored whenever needed. But it wasn't needed.
* Not sure if I'm more disappointed in the offense. I mean, a game plan of not covering Rob Gronkowski isn't what I expected on defense, but I really didn't expect much on defense anyway.
* No, the offense blew my gasket with the trick play on the first drive.
* Sure, we've come to expect it. And a long time ago my boss told me never to take too seriously one play, and never one first-half play, but all I was thinking before that snap was "Don't let the coaches get involved. Don't let the coaches get involved." And they got involved.
* After gaining 45 yards in five easy pieces, Todd Haley called an end around, self-reverse pass attempt by Antonio Brown. He was sacked.
* Holding on the next play. Missed field goal a few plays after that. What the ... ?
* Which is what the Steelers' coaches had to be saying when the Patriots' radio broadcast of the game was piped into their headsets.
* I'll defer to the Mike Tomlin transcript on this, because otherwise it just sounds like he's crying. Instead, he just answered questions, and this was the third question:
Q: There was an ESPN report that your radio went out, your communication?
MT: That’s always the case.
Q: Are you saying that every time you play here –
MT: I said what I said.
Q: What exactly happened?
MT: We were listening to the Patriots’ radio broadcast for the majority of the first half on our headsets.
Q: Coach-to-coach or coach-to-quarterback?
(Two questions later)
Q: Is there anything you can do when that happens? Do you alert the official? Did they shut their headphones?
MT: We let the league officials on-site handle it, is what we did.
Q: Did you get satisfaction?
(Five questions later)
Q: You mentioned the frequency communication problems here. Is that something you’ve experienced in any other place?
MT: Guys, I’m answering questions regarding what happened in that stadium right there. So, if anybody has any more questions about what happened tonight, I’ll be happy to address it.
Q: That’s a very serious thing that you’re indicating.
MT: I’m not indicating nothing. I’m telling you what happened.
Q: So you’re saying there are always problems here?
MT: Guys, let’s talk about what happened in that stadium tonight, please.
Q: Did you say anything to Bill Belichick about it?
MT: No. No, shoot, that guy is coaching his team, I’m coaching mine.
* Appalling? Audacious? I mean, how do you describe the Patriots pulling such a stunt in the same week ESPN exposed them as the greatest cheaters of our generation?
* Perhaps the communications problem led to Gronkowski being uncovered half the night, or specifically on the game's first touchdown when the Steelers had only 10 men on the field. But how in the world does that -- and the rest of his "naked" seam-route running -- happen against a team that practiced all week with three safeties in its dime? I mean, the Patriots were showing an extensive use of tight ends this preseason because their receiving corps was hurting and depleted. So how were their tight ends such a problem?
* Yes, Gronk might be the greatest tight end of all time, but he didn't have to work for his production last night.
* We're not supposed to report that stuff about practice, but if you're not going to use it in the game, what's the point?
* Most of you know I'm a big supporter of Tomlin. I like the way he runs the team. But, man, they looked ragged last night. They looked like they had taken the entire summer off.
* Ben Roethlisberger has seen sharper days. His stats were great -- 38-26-351, 95 passer rating -- but he never really looked comfortable even when he was comfortable. If that makes sense.
* Yes, he absolutely missed Martavis Bryant, much more than Le'Veon Bell because Bell's backup, DeAngelo Williams, played so well. And perhaps the loss of Bryant caused a lack of confidence in the red zone and thus the ridiculous play call on the first drive.
* Haley still has play-calling issues in the red zone. There's nothing manly or physical or even threatening about the way this offense tiptoes its way about the red zone. Always has to be something tricky. Even using two fullbacks at the goal line, after Williams had shown ruggedness and great ball security, was a tricky maneuver, and one that barely got the ball over the goal line. That was a third-down run after first down at the two.
* Was anyone surprised on the next possession in the fourth quarter when two linemen jumped on first-and-goal at the 1? No. And that debacle ended with a doomed draw on third down from the five. That may have been on the quarterback, but there has to be a way for a coach to limit that option.
* But that illegal procedure penalty was just as big a mistake as the self-reverse pass attempt that killed the early momentum. This one, early in the fourth quarter, would've cut the lead to three.
* So, why wasn't Ryan Shazier covering Gronkowski?
* Speaking of inside linebackers, Lawrence Timmons seemed off his game. Hopefully that toe isn't a bigger deal than Tomlin made it out to be in camp.
* Turf toe didn't do in the great Jack Lambert. That thing was dislocated. But I still thought about him as I wondered why Timmons was non-existent.
* Roethlisberger was asked about the killer penalty at the goal line and said, "A defensive guy can’t bark stuff or move in the middle of a cadence. I agree that the refs said that we didn’t go in the neutral zone and I agree with him. I wasn’t arguing that part. I was arguing the fact that he shifted in the middle of a cadence and I thought that there was a rule against it. Maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s a written rule. I don’t really know. So, that’s what I was upset about. They do that. We saw it on film that the Patriots do that. They shift and slide and do stuff on the goal line knowing that it’s an itchy trigger-finger type of down.”
* OK, then Roethlisberger was asked about the pass attempt by Brown and the answer has to make you wonder why the Steelers left their playlist lying around. Said Roethlisberger, "I came off the sideline and Coach Haley told me they only rushed three guys on that particular play and he had no idea why. It’s not like there was any crazy situation, and when they only rush three and drop everybody else it doesn’t leave you many options.”
* Of course the Patriots had it scoped out.
* Roethlisberger also said something more strange: "I think the guys stepped up great tonight. I thought (Sammie) Coates did a great job."
* Coates of course was inactive. Unless Belichick did something to the inactive list and the uniform numbers.
* For the rest of his career, Belichick and his Patriots will be surrounded by these kinds of questions. You can't cheat so blatantly for 15 years and not have questions asked about every aspect of your game.
* Anyone have questions about Josh Scobee? I don't. I think he's a great kicker who had a bad night.
* Timmons was asked about the on-field communications problems -- not the cheating -- and said it was just too loud. But he did say something that caught my eye: "“I’m not making excuses, but we are young. We know we are on the brink of something.”
* That was going to be my slant in this column even before this loss. I was going to try to remain positive and write that it's time to build off this and actually plan and coach in one direction for this defense, which I assume will begin playing with legitimate cohesion in a month or so.
* So thank you, Law Dawg, for getting my optimism back on track.
* It's going to take some time. And if Tomlin and Haley and Keith Butler have to be roughed up by the media for the time being, so be it, because Iron still does sharpen Iron.
* This team needs a refresher course in that regard, but I did like the overall offensive game plan. Whether everyone's going to run on a Vince Wilfork-less Patriots defense, I don't know, but there was some hope from a Steelers perspective that a physical approach on offense is back.
* It's the mental approach on defense that remains the big question.