Trust me, there’s a reason why this article is being published well more than 24-hours after the game concluded. It took a lot of time for the emotion of the football game to wear off, and when it did, I was able to get my thoughts in order.
Below are the 10 things I know, which don’t involve the overturned would-be game-winning touchdown by Jesse James...
- Steelers, meet Rob Gronkowski
The Pittsburgh Steelers knew Gronk was playing, right? After bottling him up in the first half, the team had a gut feeling Sean Davis could handle the job by himself. Well, everyone watching was privy to seeing how that panned out. If, and there’s absolutely no guarantee here, the Steelers and Patriots play again, stopping Gronk should be priority No. 1.
- To beat the Patriots, you have to constantly adjust
You may hate the Patriots, it’s okay...a lot of people do, but you can’t say they aren’t well coached and well prepared. The Patriots are always making adjustments, and the teams who have beaten them are always changing as well. Just because you stop Tom Brady for three quarters doesn’t mean stopping him in the final frame is a given, and the Steelers found this out the hard way. Kudos to Keith Butler for giving Brady something he hadn’t seen from Pittsburgh before, but at the end of the day some final adjustments could have been the difference for the home team.
- Crucified for being too aggressive in Week 14, the offense was murdered for being too conservative in Week 15
There has been a lot of anger regarding Todd Haley’s play-calling with three minutes and some change left in the game. The Steelers went 3-and-out while following the ever-popular run, run, pass approach to offense. While this conservative approach didn’t equate to killing the clock, it was the opposite of what the team did in Week 14 against the Ravens. Each game is different, but the Steelers had been running the ball well for the entire game and, although I need to go back and watch the pre-snap reads the Patriots gave Ben Roethlisberger, I didn’t have a problem with the series...just the lack of execution.
- The entire sequence AFTER the overturned touchdown was a disaster from top-to-bottom
We all felt it. After the James touchdown, the replay was taking a very long time. At the time this looked like a slam-dunk call, and it seemed as though the Steelers thought so too. After a while, you would think the team would have gotten the offense together and prepared for the final 30 seconds and what do do. What was done was a swing pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who couldn’t get out of bounds, and then a botched fake spike which ended the game. Not the best look, guys.
- The Steelers should not be devastated, but should be pissed — and that’s OK
All reports from the locker room were how the Steelers were pissed, not devastated, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. The team realizes this wasn’t the end of the season, but should be able to channel that anger and frustration into finishing the regular season strong and seeing where the chips fall from there.
- Marcus Gilbert and Joe Haden’s returns could come at the perfect time
Amidst the chaos is one known fact and another variable which could impact the Steelers. Marcus Gilbert is officially back from his 4-game PED suspension, and Joe Haden could be back in the lineup as well. This will help provide quality depth in Chris Hubbard and Cameron Sutton, but will improve the overall stability of the team on both sides of the ball.
- Pittsburgh will be just fine
As I stated earlier, although it felt like a playoff game — it wasn’t. The Steelers are still in good shape in the AFC Playoff Picture, and if they win their final two games (at Texans and at home vs. Browns) they’ll be in line for a first-round bye. The Steelers haven’t had a first-round bye since 2010, and they could certainly use it with players like Antonio Brown banged up.
- My gut tells me the Steelers and Patriots won’t play again this year
There’s no evidence to support this statement, just my gut feeling. I don’t think the Steelers and Patriots will be playing each other until the Patriots come to Heinz Field in 2018 (yes, the AFC East champions go to the AFC North champions in 2018). When you look at the teams the Patriots potentially could play in the playoffs (Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens and Titans), all have the capabilities of beating them in the divisional round of the playoffs. After what I saw at Heinz Field on Sunday, the Patriots are more vulnerable than ever.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster...my goodness
I have to be honest; when I covered the NFL Draft for BTSC, I didn’t know much about this kid named JuJu. I did some homework, watched some film and was impressed by his size and strength. I felt he could fit in well as the slot receiver for the team towards the end of 2017 and beyond. Boy, was I wrong. Smith-Schuster continues to impress and, if he were only a few steps faster, the James TD wouldn’t have mattered because Smith-Schuster would have taken it to the house. The Steelers’ wide receiver factory strikes again.
- This team has been learning every step of the way, they will learn and get better
Think back to when the Steelers started rebuilding this team, but mainly the offense. In 2014, the team made the AFC Playoffs but lost to the Ravens in the Wild Card round. In 2015, they defeated the Bengals in the Wild Card round—only to lose to the Broncos in the divisional round. Then, in 2016, after beating the Dolphins in the Wild Card round and the Chiefs in the divisional round, they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
This team is learning and they’re gaining confidence every step of the way. There’s no doubt in my mind this team is more than ready to take the next step. It might not seem like it now, but this team is going to do some damage when it matters most.