The Dallas Cowboys handed the Steelers one of their worst opening losses in history, 37-7. You can add to that the implosion last season in Jacksonville and now the nightmare that was Foxboro. How Cowher has turned the team around from such disasters is nothing less than stupefying. How he can put such a team on the field seemingly every opening day is maddening. Will the real Pittsburgh Steelers please stand up.
The lessons from 1997 and 2001 are encouraging, to a point. But for all the trends a stark reality haunts this fan. QB Kordell Stewart is not going to get much better. You could forgive a young quarterback for his mistakes in 1997, but the 2002 version defies defense. Kordell's past problems all came flooding back last night.
Certainly, anyone could have predicted that Stewart's detractors would be out in full force today, along with the predictable defenses. There is no need to panic, this is just the first game of 2002. This is true, but it is not Kordell Stewart's first game. The Steelers might fix the other problems with the team, but Stewart seems beyond repair.
The offensive line was horrible. They were pushed around just like they were against Jacksonville and even like they were against Dallas in 1997. The offensive line did rebound and I suspect they will again. The defense certainly had its slew of problems, but there is no reason to believe this trend of play will continue. But as for Stewart, history is not so kind.
This is not a laundry list of why the Steelers lost. First and foremost, the Patriots played a great game. The better team won. This is a tale of a quarterback who has failed to overcome his deficiencies and raise his game. What haunted Stewart as a college player clearly still spooks him today.
Stewart has always played horribly when he is too excited. He was obviously pumped last night and pressing to make plays. When Stewart presses, he bumbles and the interceptions come in droves. The Steelers asked Stewart to make some plays with his arm last night and he could not deliver. The Steelers just can't simply avoid putting Stewart in that position all the time. They need a player who can and will respond. That player may be Tommy Maddox.
Perhaps many do not know this, but Stewart's reputation at Colorado is one of a choker. Sure, everyone was in awe of his athletic talent and they knew he'd be a pro football player. But when Stewart felt the pressure to make plays, he often flopped. He drove the Buff fans crazy. And now he torments Steeler fans.
There is no doubt that Stewart is a talented quarterback. He's flashed greatness almost as often as he has flashed his self-destructiveness. But I would hold Stewart up to a comparison with Titans QB Steve McNair. McNair and Stewart share many of the same dazzling skills at quarterback. But McNair's game has evolved and been elevated. The Titans had their backs up against the wall against the Eagles and McNair rallied his team and made plays when he had to most. Donovan McNabb did not, but he might be given some slack to still develop his game. Stewart already has had plenty of time as the comparison with McNair all so painfully demonstrates.
Kordell Stewart can and will rebound. But this is no longer a rationale to stay the course. He also will regress, probably when his play matters the most. Stewart emerged as the leader of this Steeler offense in that wonderful game against Oakland in 2000. Stewart abdicated this position last night against the Patriots. Perhaps you think I am pushing the panic button, but I've followed the play of the quarterback Kordell Stewart for over a decade now.
Kordell Stewart is basically the same quarterback he was in 1997, "It's not something for me to hold my head down about. When you get out there, you're kind of excited to get some things going and that happens." But in 2002, that's no longer good enough.