Boy, I haven't felt this bad after the first game of a Steelers' season since the 1989 opener at Three Rivers Stadium when the Cleveland Browns throttled the Pittsburgh Steelers, 51-0.
Ironically enough, it was that same franchise--this time, as the Baltimore Ravens--who gave me that same, sickening feeling today.
The Ravens did their best to ensure that Steelers fans wouldn't have much to twirl their Terrible Towels about today as they pounced on Pittsburgh from the opening-kickoff and never let up. Baltimore jumped out to a 14-0 lead early-on and led, 21-7, at halftime.
Any thoughts of the Steelers repeating their playoff comeback were thwarted on the first play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter when Ravens' defensive tackle Haloti Ngata charged into the backfield and nailed Rashard Mendenhall just as he was taking the hand off and forced a fumble in-which the Ravens recovered.
Baltimore took advantage and scored immediately, and after punter Sam Koch caught the Steelers napping on the extra point try and ran it in for two-more points, the Ravens were up, 29-7, and never looked back, cruising to a 35-7 victory.
The Steelers turned the ball over an astounding seven times today, and this continued a trend that has seen the team commit 14 turnovers in their last four games dating back to their Divisional playoff match-up against Baltimore in January.
Today was also the third time in the last four games that Pittsburgh fell behind by two-scores or more.
They were fortunate to overcome their early mistakes against the Ravens in their previous meeting, but today was just a disaster.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers looked out-classed most of the day. Unlike the Ravens front-seven that seemed to harass Ben Roethlisberger the entire afternoon, the Steelers could barely get off the ball against Baltimore's supposed patch-work offensive line.
Ray Rice rushed for over a hundred yards and a touchdown and torched Pittsburgh's pass-defense with several catches underneath for crucial third-down pick-ups and another score.
Joe Flacco had plenty of time to throw the entire afternoon and was only sacked one time and very rarely knocked down or even hurried.
Troy Polamalu seemed invisible, once again. His only action of note was being at the center of a brawl late in the game.
All-in-all, just a bad day to a be a Pittsburgh Steeler and a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.
Now, for the good news! The Baltimore Ravens looked like a Super Bowl team today. I'm not really referring to their performance on the field (although, their dominance over Pittsburgh was Super Bowl caliber), I'm talking about their reactions on the sideline.
Towards the end of the game today, Baltimore's players and coaches looked like a team that had just exorcised a demon. John Harbaugh almost looked like Bill Cowher at the end of Super Bowl XL.
Speaking of that, I half-expected someone to present the team with some sort of trophy right after the game ended, that's how happy and relieved the Ravens looked after dominating Pittsburgh.
It's pretty obvious that Baltimore's singular focus since January 15th was beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Today, they did that. They were the better football team, there is no way even the most die hard and stubborn Steelers fan can say otherwise. Baltimore beat the Steelers with Roethlisberger under center. Flacco looked like an elite quarterback. The Steelers were totally out-classed, out-hustle, out-schemed, and out-muscled.
What's the good news in all of that? It's only week one.
In 1989, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded from that horrific game to make the playoffs.
In 1997, the Steelers lost, 37-7, to the Dallas Cowboys before the home folks but went on to claim yet another division title and make it all the way to the AFC Championship game.
Back in 2003, the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of two-straight division titles, totally out-classed the Baltimore Ravens in a week one match-up at Heinz Field. I think we all remember how the season unfolded for both teams. The Steelers totally fell-apart the rest of the way and finished the year 6-10. The Ravens rebounded to go 10-6 and win their first division title in team history.
The New England Patriots were also totally out-classed in week one of the 2003 season when they went to Buffalo and were stomped, 31-0. They finished their season with a 14-2 record and won their second Super Bowl.
Why am I saying all this? I mean, it has nothing to do with today, right? No, but most teams don't truly hit their stride and find their identities in September. Also, some teams peak in September, and others peak in January.
Can you picture the Baltimore Ravens playing any better than they did today? Can you picture the Pittsburgh Steelers playing any worse than they just did today?
Unlike the '89 group, this Steelers team has the heart of a champion. They've been to the top of the mountain. They know how to rebound from some pretty embarrassing losses and not only survive, but thrive.
The Ravens gave Pittsburgh their best knock-out punch, but all they did was knock them-down.....not out. It's only round one.
Have the Ravens overtaken the Steelers? I'll let you know in round 12.