I'm glad I made such a big deal about how what's done is done, 2007 is a new year, blah blah blah. The Pittsburgh Steelers, apparently, forgot to break out the new calendars, and looked like they all pulled out a Max McGee in the first half (R.I.P., big guy).
Losing Aaron Smith in the first half didn't help things, but you know what? The Broncos were without Champ Bailey, Javon Walker and Tom Nalen. And two weeks ago, the Steelers put the beatdown on what was a pretty-good-at-the-time Seahawks team without three Pro Bowlers and the nickel back. As head coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, when a guy goes down, it's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason were adequate in Smith's place, and the left end position wasn't the reason Pittsburgh lost.
If anything, it was an entire defensive effort. For the first time all season, Dick LeBeau didn't have the answers. After Denver scored their third offensive touchdown and went up 28-14 with 15 minutes in the game, I wondered why Al Michaels failed to report that Tim Lewis was hired during halftime. And that DeWayne Washington, Lethon Flowers, Chad Scott and Brent Alexander, were emergency signings to play in the secondary. The Broncos twice converted third-and-14, and was 70 percent on third down. Forget the Big Ben picks, that little stat is why Pittsburgh lost.
Let downs happen, of course, and one of my favorite LeBeau quotes goes like this: "Sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you." Well, there was a bear mauling in Denver Sunday night, and the Steelers' D was on the receiving end.
I was exaggerating when I referred to Tim Lewis earlier, I don't want to overreact after this loss, and I know I should take it one game at a time, give 110 percent, and thank the Good Lord for giving me this opportunity, but ... well, if that defense shows up December 9 against the New England Patriots, it'll be Good Night, Irene. Remember 2002, when the Steelers opened the season (and Gillette Stadium) against the Pats, and Tom Brady threw the ball something like 200 times? That New England team "featured" David Patten, Deion Branch and Donald Hayes. Dante' Stallworth, Wes Welker and Randy Moss will each go for a 100 yards if they face what the Broncos' offense faced Sunday night.
And if you're unwilling to look that far into the future, just peek ahead to next week. The Steelers travel to Cincinnati, and you can bet your ass Carson Palmer, struggling or not, is going to put the ball in the air. This has been such an unpredictably wacky season, the argument that the Bengals are banged up doesn't hold. Sure, their offensive line is in shambles, but did you get a glimpse at what the Steelers had on the field in Denver? I was pretty certain that Kendall Simmons was going for the single-game holding record. Worse than their offensive issues, Cincy also has everybody hobbling on defense. Again, I'd refer you to the Broncos game.
Don't be surprised when the Bengals put eight guys in the box -- be even less surprised when the Steelers run right into it ... for a three-yard gain -- and blitz Roethlisberger silly. How Big Ben handles the pressure will go a long way in determining the outcome, but ultimately -- and it feels weird even writing this -- it'll all depend on the defense.
You see, the defense is the constant on this team; the other units are up and down -- take the offensive line or special teams, for example -- but when the defense is out there, you have a good idea of what to expect. Now, though, my football world has been turned upside down. (It's a safe bet that Bill Belichick has already broken down the film of this game, and may not even need to illegally videotape the Steelers' defensive signals.)
If the defense is in flux, it has a ripple effect through the rest of the team. Are those expectations unfair and a tad unrealistic? Yep, sure are. But to quote my favorite philospher, it is what it is.
Obviously, slapping around the Bengals will solve a lot of problems, but if the first six games of the '07 season has shown us anything, it's that the Steelers are a pretty unreliable road team. Oh, and Keith, keep your Eddie Mush prognostications to yourself. Jerk.
Steelers go back to the future in Denver
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