There’s no question about how good Antonio Brown is. Now in the prime of his career, he almost single-handedly brought the Pittsburgh Steelers back from the abyss of losing to the Cleveland Browns to savor a Week 1 victory.
Thanks to some phenomenal catches and yards after the catch, Brown once again was his incomparable self, posting a perfect 11-for-11 catches, good for 183 yards. Phenomenal indeed. The only thing which could have been any better would be if fans had gotten to see one of Brown’s new touchdown dances.
Nonetheless, the rest of the Steelers’ superstars (I’m looking at you Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell), all left much to be desired. And the cold reality for this team is that they’ll go only as far as their superstars take them.
Let’s just hope the Week 1 game was an extension of the preseason—another warm up game—and this team and its stars are better equipped now to handle four quarters of play.
Time to get caught up on the Steelers news outside the walls of BTSC...
The Steelers played a close game with the Browns on Sunday. It was closer than it should have been, given the expectations for both teams. The Steelers are supposed to be a Super Bowl contender — the Browns are supposed to be—well--the Browns.
The Steelers won 21-18 and given that it was Opening Day, the fact they won should be the only relevant fact. There isn’t much else to be learned because it generally takes a team three or four weeks to work out some of its kinks.
But there is one thing we learned from Sunday’s game, even though we probably already knew it from watching the Steelers in recent years. The Steelers are Super Bowl contenders based mostly on their star power, especially on offense. They have one of the best trios at quarterback, wide receiver and running back in the league in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Those three are capable of carrying the Steelers to a level unattainable for most other teams in the league. When all three are playing well, the Steelers are really difficult to beat. But it has to be all three of them, though. It can’t be anything less than that because, otherwise, the Steelers become an extremely ordinary team.
That is precisely what happened on Sunday. The Steelers didn’t get star-like performances from all three of these offensive superstars and we saw the result.
Brown was pretty special and reminded everyone why he’s considered perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL. In the process of compiling his 11 catches for 182 yards, Brown made a couple of key plays that give the offense a much-needed lift. He sealed the Steelers’ win with a vintage catch between two defensive players. He also broke open the game early, with a 50-yard catch-and-run on a pass that was tipped. He clearly did his part, and this is the kind of performance No. 84 is good for just about every week.
There was panic in living rooms and bars and at Opening Day parties on Sunday, not just in Pittsburgh, but throughout Steelers Nation. Their team was tied with the Cleveland Browns, of all teams, in the second quarter. The alleged dynamite offense had done nothing. Le’Veon Bell played exactly as you’d expect from a player who missed all of training camp and the exhibition season. He looked nothing like the best running back in franchise history. Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer had just led a 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive and Stephon Tuitt was out with a serious biceps injury.
Predictably, the Twitter world was in a state of hysteria.
That’s when a wise old head stepped up to offer a little common sense.
“You’re a quarter-and-a-half into the season,” @JeromeBettis36 tweeted. “Breathe.”
I’m here to expand on that.
It was one game—the first of a long, marathon season. The Steelers won. There was more good than bad in their 21-18 win. They are 1-0. The Cincinnati Bengals would love to be in that spot. So would the New England Patriots.
I picked the Steelers to win Super Bowl LII in Sunday’s Post-Gazette. I see no reason to ask for a do-over.
I agree that Tuitt’s injury during the game’s first series is troubling. The Steelers think enough of him that they signed him to a six-year, $61.05 million contract last week. A year ago, they had to play their final 10 games without Cam Heyward. Now, it’s Tuitt. He’d be a huge loss. There’s no way their defense can be as good without him.
But as for the other negatives from the game, they’re fixable.
Safety Mike Mitchell typically has played every defensive snap for the Steelers in recent years. On Sunday, J.J. Wilcox subbed for him at times—a nod to the five weeks of practice that Mitchell missed, including every preseason game—due to a lower-body injury.
"I obviously have a plan with the coaches and the trainers," Mitchell said, "and we're sticking to that plan."
In just two plays, Stephon Tuitt showed why the Steelers invested so heavily in their defensive end for the next six seasons.
On the opening snap on Sunday in Cleveland, Tuitt chased Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer out of the pocket before linebacker Anthony Chickillo finished the tackle for only a 1-yard gain.
On the second snap, Tuitt forced running back Isaiah Crowell to the sideline for a 9-yard loss.
“Tuitt doesn't get paid $61 million for no reason,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “He's one of the best in the league.”
Unfortunately for the Steelers, those were the only two snaps Tuitt played in the 21-18 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium. Just one day after signing a contract that made him the fifth highest-paid defensive end in the NFL, Tuitt injured his left biceps pursuing Crowell and he exited the game for good.
Steelers players feared the worst when an ESPN report on Sunday night suggested a possible biceps tear for Tuitt that would force him to miss the rest of the season. Spirits were much higher in the locker room by Monday afternoon when it was learned that Tuitt's injury isn’t expected to be season-ending.
“We're definitely breathing a sigh of relief knowing he'll be able to play down the road,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said.
The exact timetable for Tuitt's return isn't known, but teammates felt that an NFL Network report suggesting a “week-to-week” absence for Tuitt was accurate.
“That's a big piece of our team,” nose tackle Javon Hargrave said. “It's good that it's not as bad as we thought it would be.”
Tuitt made a brief appearance in the locker room but wasn’t made available to reporters, with a team spokesman saying the defensive end needed to attend an appointment. Tuitt didn’t have his arm or shoulder wrapped.
“Just to know that he's going to be able to be out here with us and to know the impact he can make every week, it's going to be amazing,” Shazier said. “I know a lot of people were scared he might not be with us.”
While the world wondered if the move to bring in Vance McDonald would spell the end of playing opportunities for Jesse James, it was James who made the biggest impact in the Steelers' season opener.
James caught six passes for 41 yards, including two touchdowns and an 8-yard reception on the final drive to help the Steelers close out their 21-18 win over the Browns.
Two weeks after Mike Tomlin had described James and fellow tight end Xavier Grimble as not being "consistently varsity enough," the Steelers turned to James in critical situations with the offense struggling.
“You know, he delivered some big-time plays, particularly in the red area,” Tomlin said of James. “Performance in the red area will define us, but not only us, everyone. His contributions in that area in particular were exceptional.”
And that’s why the Steelers run their “seven shots” drill during every training camp practice, because they consider these situations as prime opportunities for the offense to make its mark in a game.