Just plain mediocre

Lolley: Steelers are the worst thing a team can be, not really good, not really bad.

PITTSBURGH – Just when you thought you could count these Pittsburgh Steelers out, they come out and totally redeem themselves.

OK, not really.

The Steelers on Sunday beat an NFL version of a junior varsity team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team so bad, head coach Jon Gruden decided to kick a field goal with no time left on the clock at the end of the game just to avoid a shutout.

Hey, you take what little victories you can.

The Steelers certainly know all about that. Humbled last week in Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champions were about as unpretentious as an NFL team can be in the locker room following their 20-3 dismantling of the Buccaneers, saying all the right things.

Maybe that's because Baltimore wasn't the only time the Steelers have been humbled this season. In fact, the entire season has been a humbling experience. But the loss to Baltimore drove home the fact to these Steelers that they just aren't among the league's elite teams.

Let's face it, the Steelers spent the offseason living the life of the defending Super Bowl champions, going to all the best parties, shows and events. Everywhere they went, people told them how good they were.

And the players obviously started to believe it.

Even when they stumbled out of the gate the team still believed it had a chance to turn things around, still had that championship swagger.

But Baltimore knocked that swagger out of them last week.

Sunday, the Steelers put forth a workman-like effort to dispatch the Bucs.

Playing without two of their biggest stars, wide receiver Hines Ward and strong safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers didn't do anything especially good Sunday. They just won.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed less than half of his passes. Running back Willie Parker averaged 2.8 yards per carry. The defense was just OK, helped more by the fact that the Bucs were starting rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski than any spectacular plays it made.

"We just wanted to come out here and get a win, no matter how we did it," said linebacker Joey Porter.

Mission accomplished.

The only problem is that the Steelers needed that reality check against Baltimore a little earlier in the season. Had it come in week 6 or 7, this team may have been able to salvage this now lost season.

But at 5-7, even though they are just two games out of a playoff spot, does anybody really think this team is playing for anything more than a lower draft position?

All the Steelers did Sunday was prove that they aren't among the worst teams in the NFL. Of course the problem with that is that you either want to be really good or really bad. Let's face it, mediocre is boring.

But mediocre is what this team is – good enough to beat up on the dregs of the NFL, but not good enough for a playoff spot.

© Tampa Bay had no respect whatsoever for the Steelers' receivers and looked to have eight or sometimes even nine men up at the line of scrimmage at times.

Get used to that as long as Hines Ward isn't around to occupy opposing defenders.

© Sean Morey did his best Cedrick Wilson impersonation on the only pass thrown his way, calling for a pass interference penalty before the ball had even hit the ground. The only difference was that Morey did, indeed, get mugged.

Then again, the officials probably figured that the receiver has to get some kind of separation before they'll call pass interference. Morey got none.

Roethlisberger wasn't especially sharp against the Bucs, but he didn't have much to work with, either. And that was before Wilson limped off the field following his second catch.

© Speaking of Wilson, what was with that celebration for after his first reception?

Coaches used to tell players to act like you've been there before after scoring a touchdown. Has the time come for them to now remind players to act like they've caught a 13-yard pass before?

© Was there anybody in the stadium who didn't know the Bucs were going to try a fade pass to Maurice Stovall when they brought him into the game in the third quarter?

Bryant McFadden certainly knew it was coming.

A good pass may have beaten McFadden. The one Bruce Gradkowski threw was not a good one as it was thrown more to the inside than the outside.

Still, McFadden did what you are supposed to do and played the football.

© Porter has begun his late-season Pro Bowl push. I'm sure he'll follow up Sunday's two-sack performance with a couple more Thursday night at Cleveland and suddenly he'll have nine sacks. Happens every year.

© How about that dive Gradkowski took when Deshea Townsend came in unblocked?

Gradkowski hasn't gone down that easily since Washington High School beat his Seton-LaSalle team by 60 points.

He must have thought Casey Hampton was storming through that hole instead of Townsend.

© I overheard Ryan Clark telling Anthony Smith to be ready to play Thursday against the Browns. His reasoning?

Clark was told that head coach Bill Cowher said during his post-game press conference that his groin injury was serious. That's all Clark knew about it. Apparently, nobody told Clark it was serious.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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