There's a faction among Steeler Nation that believes the Pittsburgh Steelers have some inherent right of passage to succeed in the NFL, that somehow losing is for other teams, but not us. Losing can and will never happen. Competing for championships is our birthright. I am not among that faction. To the contrary, I am thankful every day that our team is very competitive at a time when I can enjoy going to games with my teenage daughter. I know that it is a matter of time when the franchise goes into a slump. The NFL is systemically designed that way.
I told Mary Rose before Sunday's game that it would be a battle to get out of Kansas City with a victory. I am trying to instill in her an insight into the NFL that will keep her from being like so many talk show callers who were "upset" at Sunday's victory - that's right, "upset" at a victory. We've got the Chicken Little faction that thinks the sky is falling when Pittsburgh falls short of domination. We've got the "why-do-we-play-down-to-the-level-of-competition" faction, as if Pittsburgh was Alabama and Kansas City was Vanderbilt; and then, of course, the obligatory Bruce Arians bashing, where 200,000 truck drivers, accountants and school teachers use the magic of hindsight to think they can call plays better than the people who study this for a living.
There's a salary cap in the NFL, which levels the talent pool. In addition, teams who finish with lesser records get better players. The Kansas City Chiefs are loaded on defense, but no one seems to be giving them credit after a "lackluster" Pittsburgh 13-9 win. Kansas City has two defensive linemen who were drafted third and fifth overall in the first round (Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey). The last time Pittsburgh had a pick that high they drafted a guy named Bradshaw. The other D-lineman is Kelly Gregg, an old nemesis from Baltimore. The Chiefs have two stud linebackers drafted 15th and 20th (Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali) and a defensive backfield that features three second rounders, including an early 35th overall pick (Brandon Flowers). The last I checked, those guys were getting paid also, yet people fail to acknowledge that highly-talented athletes are scheming to prevent us from having our way.
So why then, if the Chiefs defense features high-caliber athletes, do they rank mediocre at best in most statistical categories? The answer is that with a very poor offense, the defense has little chance to rank high in anything. When a team goes three-and-out repeatedly, the defense is on the field more than their fair share. They can't help but give up yards and points. When the offense doesn't do its fair share of clock control and production, the defense pays the price. They're human. They wear down. And then there's the losing part of things. When a team good enough to win their division just last year loses its quarterback, all-star running back and all-star safety, losing takes its toll.
So why then, if the Chiefs rank mediocre in defense and losing has taken its toll, did the Pittsburgh Steelers struggle so much on Sunday? Why did they look worse than New England or Miami or other teams who have looked much better against KC? The answer, as I told Mary Rose on Sunday, is that the game was scheduled seven hours later than my liking. A 1:00 p.m. contest probably would have ended with a much different score. Take the third, fifth, 15th, 21st and 35th best players in their respective drafts, put them in prime time, on national television, the only game being played, in maybe the loudest stadium in the NFL, after eight hours of tailgating, and you are going to be in a dogfight. The Chiefs may not win another game, or very few, but on that night, their defense played in the Super Bowl. Their highly-talented, chiseled-muscle athletes, spent every dime as if it were their last.
Remember the Colts game? Did they not lose their quarterback and did their defense not spend every dime on prime-time national television? Put a wounded, downtrodden group of thoroughbred athletes on national television, prime time, in their own house, and you better cross your fingers and hope to get out of town with any kind of victory. Ask the Baltimore Ravens how their trip home was from Jacksonville? Here's a team who doesn't have its coach anymore, but on that one night, they cashed every check.
One of the disadvantages of being the Pittsburgh Steelers is that they are often showcased on featured games in enemy arenas. That comes with the territory of being the real "America's team." These are the elements to the NFL that I am trying to teach Mary Rose. About bull's-eyes and psychology and human beings playing different games on different levels at different times. About how close the talent level is in the NFL, despite what records may indicate. Regardless of whether you are 8-3 or 3-8, a blowout in the NFL is a 10-13 point game.
Look, I know the offense struggled. I am aware of the penalties and dropped passes, etc., but speaking of 8-3, there are four teams in the AFC with that record and none better. The Steelers are one of those four teams, and unlike the others, their three losses have all come to the others. Do we need to get our offense back in sync this week? Absolutely. Will 13 points beat Cincinnati? Maybe not. But one thing is for sure - that on Sunday night in Kansas City, the Pittsburgh Steelers got the job done, style points be damned.