The debacle last Sunday night against the New England Patriots has left a lot of people questioning the Steelers' legitimacy this season.
For one thing, fans (and probably players) are just frustrated to no end by the mastery that Tom Brady has displayed over the Steelers' defense his entire career.
Brady was 30/43 for 350 yards and 3 touchdown passes in the game against the Steelers. And for good measure, he even scored on a rushing touchdown, after which, he spiked the ball in our faces. I've been watching football for a long time, and it very well may have been the greatest I have ever seen a quarterback look. Does Brady carving-up the Steeler D mean that Dick Lebeau's scheme is doomed and outdated? That sentiment has been floated around this week. I don't think that's the case. Sometimes, you just have to give the other guy credit. And when the other guy is Tom Brady, you're talking about maybe the best quarterback in the league, and possibly one of the best ever. Brady is a no-brainer to get into Canton when his playing days are over, and Hall-of-Famers earn their busts by doing what Brady did to the Steelers on Sunday.
I'm too young to remember this, but I do know that in a game in 1975, OJ Simpson came into Pittsburgh, at the height of the Steel Curtain's defensive dominance, and rushed for well over 200 yards at Three Rivers Stadium. Simpson had a Hall of Fame career and was one of the greatest running backs of all time, and those kinds of offensive weapons make even the most dominant defenses look foolish at times. The defense recovered quite nicely as most of you probably know.
And even with Brady in the league throwing a wrench into things over the years, the current defense has been good enough to help win a couple of World titles.
But I digress.
Another factor from Sunday's game that has people wondering whether or not Pittsburgh is one of the elite teams in the league this year is how thoroughly the Patriots beat up the Steelers on both sides of the ball. And don't let that 39-26 score fool you, it was a shellacking. Let's face it, Steeler fans are a prideful group, and watching our guys get owned by any team is very hard to take. We probably hold onto that kind of defeat longer than the players. It had been a while since Pittsburgh was so severely outplayed. I've heard more than one person suggest that Super Bowl contenders don't get beat as badly as Pittsburgh did last week.
I don't agree with that.
In 1995, the Steelers opened up the year 3-4. Among those 4 defeats were a couple of lopsided losses to the Vikings and Bengals respectively. Another was a humiliating loss to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. People, including Myron Cope himself, were questioning whether they were even a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl contender. Well, they rebounded well enough to not only make the playoffs, but advance to Super Bowl XXX.
Going back even further to the 1979 season. The Super Steelers, the defending champions, one of the greatest teams of that era or any era, were victims of not one, but two embarrassing losses that year. They lost, 35-7, to the San Diego Chargers, and, 34-10, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Their performance against the Bengals was so bad, in fact, that Chuck Noll jokingly asked his players if they had money on the game. But when it was all said and done, those blowouts simply represented a couple of losses along the way to a 4th Lombardi trophy.
If you need some more recent examples, look no further than their last two Super Bowl years. In a Monday night game in 2005, the Steelers played so badly against the Colts, they didn't even look like they belonged in the same league as Indianapolis. Yet, they recovered and not only turned the tables on the Colts in the playoffs, but ended the year as World Champions.
And in 2008, in a game at Philadelphia, the Steelers' offensive line was so over-matched by the Eagles defense, that it may well have been the worst performance by an offensive line in team history. Roethlisberger was sacked 8 times, and it could have been 12 or 13. That's how much the Eagles dominated that day. No way was anyone thinking Super Bowl after that game, but the team ended the year with their 6th Lombardi trophy.
Losing the way Pittsburgh did to the Pats doesn't necessarily mean they're not a worthy championship contender.
A more tangible concern is the injury situation. They've lost some key players, but every team, even Super Bowl winners, have to overcome big injuries from time to time. It's part of the game.
Even without Max Starks and Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh still has enough high-end players on both sides of the ball to compete with any team in the league.
The only question is how far they're able to take things this season.
We'll begin to find that out this Sunday.