The above Steeler successes were certainly a step forward. Gannon's 43 completions for over 400 yards, the 4 Steeler fumbles, and the Raider kickoff return for a touchdown amounted to two steps backwards. Whatever the Steelers did well this Sunday night in Pittsburgh, they undid it and then some.
The simple fact is that since the Steelers beat the Ravens in the playoffs last season they have failed to put together a complete team effort. If the offense succeeds, the defense then flounders. When the defense comes up with a big play, the offense falls flat on its face. And even when the offense and the defense put their games together, the special teams implode. The players are out of step with each other and the result is the basement of perhaps the worst division in the NFL, the AFC North.
The Steelers were in just about everyone's preseason list of the AFC elite. The Steelers had to endure a test of this lofty position right off the bat. They failed, miserably. They are not playing like the Super Bowl champion Patriots (2-0). And they are not playing as well as Oakland Raiders (2-0). They are not even playing as well as the first place Cleveland Browns. Just bundle up the Steelers with the woeful Ratbirds and the hopeless Bungles.
The story of the night seemed to be one botched opportunity after another. A Joey Porter interception turned into a punt. Excellent field position after a nice punt return and then a penalty that perched the Steelers right on the end zone resulted in a fumble by Kordell Stewart. The defense consistently put the Raiders in third and long situations only to yield another first down. Once again, the Steelers would fail to capitalize on a slew of golden opportunities and handed the game gift-wrapped to an eager Oakland team.
Furthermore, the NFL seems to have unlocked the secret to the Steeler defense. The Raiders attempted 65 passes and rushed the ball only 17 times, mimicking the Patriots game plan for success. You can bet that QB Kelly Holcomb and the Cleveland Browns took note. The season threatens to turn into one aerial insult after another. Teams are built on three legs (offense, defense, and special teams) and it would seem that the Steelers don't have a leg to stand on.
The Steelers have found ways to plug problem holes. Kendall Simmons had a pretty decent debut at right guard. Randle El was his same electric self even taking a snap on one play. The Steelers were full of gimmicks that occasionally generated big plays. But, for every hole the Steelers seemed to plug, new leaks would form or old ones would come unstuck. And there was Cowher amidst the deluge, scowling like a captain in a storm that is sinking his ship.
No, 0-2 is not the end of the season, but it is a substantial hole against teams that the Steelers would have to beat in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl. The Steelers may yet back into the dance, but that will be the lucky windfall of playing in such a weak division. 0-2 may be worse for the St. Louis Rams who face plenty of stiff competition in their division. For both teams, Super Bowl dreams must now look more like a cruel nightmare. The Steelers are in the bottom swing of the vicissitudes of NFL fortunes.