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A porous secondary combined with the Patriots air attack key easy win over the Steelers

With the memories of a bad preseason where the play 'doesn't count' towards regular season success or failure behind them, it sure smelled like it in a Patriots 28-21 win over the Steelers where the secondary was in shambles and the front seven didn't pressure Tom Brady very often.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Where do you start? What talking point should I begin with? Is there any one that's more irritating than the other?

As you look at the aftermath of a New England Patriots 28-21 dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, a number of questions certainly linger. On a night where the home team raised a banner for their fourth Super Bowl win, they also raised the bar further on the questionable tactics they use both on and off the field.

But who are we kidding? The Steelers lost to a better team. No amount of holding on end-zone TD passes (that the league continues to ignore) or any amount of jamming the frequencies of coaching headsets with radio broadcasts were the main culprits in this caper. No, this loss is a direct product of what we didn't see during the off-season in terms of addressing issues the team knew they had coming into the year.

Simply put, the secondary was once again torched and abused like a red-headed stepchild by Patriots QB Tom Brady and gorilla-like TE Rob Gronkowski. The tandem hooked up for three TD passes, each one seemingly easier than the other. In between those were pass receptions my two-year-old could have made, mostly due to the fact that nobody seemed interested or capable of covering Gronk.

He's kind of hard to miss. Big guy. Size of a mastodon. Speaks in short grunts.

That's probably a bit unfair but, hey, it's early Friday morning as I churn this out and really my anger should be directed towards a better candidate like the Steelers vastly underwhelming secondary which looked like a Class A team from the WPIAL. From the opening gun, the corners and safety help did little to stop any Patriot running a pass route.

It would be an understatement to say that the secondary is a major fail at this point. Often on Thursday, they looked like the Keystone Cops just bumbling around, missing assignments and generally not covering the best TE in the game. It was as if Gronkowski had donned an invisible cape, allowing him to run free through our secondary all evening long.

As for the linebackers, outside of a few good plays from Ryan Shazier and rookie Bud Dupree, there wasn't much pressure that was generated by that group on Tom Brady, who seemingly had all the time he needed to look over a confused Steelers defense and hit open receivers. At one point, Brady was in such a groove he completed 19 straight passes before one fell to the stadium turf. It would be a personal best for him in that category.

Is this picture starting to clear up for you Steelers fans? The one I've been railing about for the past four weeks that this defense is awful at best.

The defensive line was maybe the best performing group among the Steelers and that isn't saying very much as Dion Lewis (yes, that Dion Lewis who ran for 1,800 yards as a Pitt freshman) looked like Tony Dorsett at times rushing for 69 yards on 15 carries while adding four grabs for 51 yards. It was just that kind of night.

And don't get me started on the kicking game. I might self combust.

If I do, just hope Josh Scobee is nearby.

So please, tell me the pre-season means nothing. That the effort and result don't count for squat. That they mean little when it comes to how the regular season will be. You can't dress up a pig and pass it off as a prom date. The defensive effort put forth last night is only an indicator of what is to come. If major improvements aren't afoot, if play does not elevate, if guys don't have the ability to know what their assignments are and execute, then the idea of even a .500 season is mostly stepping out the door.

The schedule the Steelers face is the toughest in the NFL, by the percentages. The one blessing is they get some help from the NFC West the next two games in a crashing and burning San Francisco 49ers and the soon to be California dreaming St. Louis Rams. Both teams are in transition of a downward spiral. The Steelers must find a way to take advantage of it, or this season may be over sooner than you think.

John Phillips is the author of this article. He is a sports reporter and anchor for CBS Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan and News Radio 1020 KDKA. JP also patrols the sidelines for football coverage on Pittsburgh's WPNT-TV 22. Follow him on Twitter @PGHJohnPhillips