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At least it's not the '80s -- yet

Jim Wexell contemplates mediocrity in his post-game notes column following the Steelers' 27-16 loss to the Patriots.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who just watched the post-apocalyptic Steelers world without Ben Roethlisberger, and the experience was as deflating as expected:

* This was the 1980s all over again. The radio waves rustled with talk of promoting a backup quarterback, the performance was adequate but not enough, and there was some booing throughout, early exiting, and the post-game talk out of the locker room was about not settling for moral victories.

* Give me the angry rhetoric of "Fire the coach!" when he can't win with the franchise QB any day.

* An old boss -- who covered the Steelers throughout the 1980s -- bemoaned teams that finished between 6-10 and 9-7 every year. The fans care when they're really bad or when they're really good. Treading water bores everyone.

* We're getting ahead of ourselves, of course, and in this column we can admit that Landry Jones played well enough to lift spirits, in that a serviceable backup has been found, one who can step in and play better in a playoff situation than he did a season ago.

* And players such as Chris Hubbard and Cobi Hamilton and Javon Hargrave and Vince Williams can step in and play winning football if there's another spate of injuries down the road.

* And Le'Veon Bell can carry a team that makes a mistake or two fewer.

* Yet, those positive notes come crashing to the pavement when you hear Bill Belichick say, "This is a tough place to play," because Heinz Field has become a tough place to play. And the Steelers could beat the Patriots in the playoffs if they were to play here. But now that's going to be a near impossibility.

* For the Steelers to win it all, they'll either have to win in Foxboro or, as happened in their last two championship seasons, hope for someone else to knock off the Patriots.

* The Patriots did look so very beatable yesterday. Really, with the exception of Brady's accuracy, Rob Gronkowski was the only blue-chipper they had on the field. Brady doesn't move around nearly as well as he used to, LeGarrette Blount can't run laterally, their defense had zero to little pass rush and their corners were getting beat in the first half.

* Darrius Heyward-Bey, when asked why the Steelers passed for 179 yards in the first half but only 102 during catch-up mode in the second half, said, "They started going to more of a zone look because we -- I'm going to choose my words carefully -- because when they were going man-to-man, we were winning."

* There was praise for Jones throughout the locker room but after the linemen were done, in the back corner, there was muttering. "Too many mistakes," David DeCastro said of the entire offense. "It was frustrating."

* DeCastro isn't one to complain about officiating, but he couldn't help himself Sunday. "That first offensive pass interference penalty was awful," he said. "That was pretty bad."

* The Steelers lost what appeared to be a sizeable gain when the official threw a flag after Heyward-Bey was slammed by cornerback Eric Rowe. Offensive pass interference was called instead.

* And the touchdown called back because of a hold called against Hubbard? "The guy slipped," DeCastro said of the pass-rusher. "An official came up to Hub and asked if the guy slipped and Hub said yeah. The official said someone else called it."

* However, there was no call on Patriots left tackle Nate Solder when he took down James Harrison on the 36-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. "Everything looks like I was held," said Harrison with disgust. "Sometimes they see it, sometimes they don't."

Ryan Shazier knew he wasn't going to start, but he played at least half the game. He showed that his speed is back when he knifed through the line to break up a screen pass.

Jarvis Jones was a bright spot through the first half, and in helping stop the Patriots on the key first possession of the second half, but on too many of Blount's runs Jones was being blocked.

* Badly.

* Robert Golden's hands were shaking as he talked about the two big plays by Gronkowski. Golden was the primary coverage man on both plays, and on both plays he was beat. He took it hard.

* Sean Davis took a few snaps as a deep safety in the dime, and the other prize rookie in the secondary, Artie Burns, again seemed allergic to tackling.

* The Steelers haven't had such skinny cornerbacks in decades, but at least Ross Cockrell is willing to stick his helmet in there.

* Justin Gilbert might be the skinniest corner I've seen here.

Lawrence Timmons covers better than Williams, but struggled all game with Edelman. That may need altered in a subsequent meeting.

* The tackling issues were the most jarring, again. Other than that, it's about getting healthy and winning games they should win.

* If the Steelers truly take the rest of the season on a week-by-week basis, playing this game again, with a quarterback capable of finishing in the red zone, is likely.


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