If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you’re glad you don’t have to talk yourself into believing the Steelers could still be true contenders with a record of 0-2-1 to start the 2018 campaign.
And that’s what we would have had to do, you know. Talk ourselves into thinking the low percentage of teams that made the playoffs after going winless through the first three weeks didn’t pertain to the squad we cheered for.
Thankfully, the Steelers rescued us from that illogical bit of fan reasoning with a 30-27 victory over the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t always sound. But it gave the Steelers (and their fans) a chance to breathe, to sort of hit the reset button.
After 2017, a season in which the Steelers seemed to be in the news every single week for one controversy or another, it didn’t seem like Team Turmoil could possibly be more chaotic in 2018. Yet, the first two weeks felt like 20, as Pittsburgh got off to an 0-1-1 start and didn’t look very pretty during the process.
The ugliness wasn’t contained to the field either.
But it’s okay...for now.
The win over Tampa Bay didn’t cure all that ailed the Steelers going into Monday night. No, it just leveled off the airline after a rough takeoff and some scary turbulence. The Steelers still have much work to do, and how they go about their business during the next few weeks will likely determine the ultimate course of their season.
However, this is nothing new in the NFL, especially with the way free-agency alters every team’s roster during the offseason—even the really talented ones.
Take a look at the Steelers, for instance, a team that went 13-3 in 2017. They essentially have two new starting safeties, along with a rookie safety who they’ve quickly thrown into the mix and are expecting big things from. They also have a new inside linebacker and two outside linebackers that have switched sides.
And that’s just the defense.
Pittsburgh has a new starting running back to start the season in James Conner, something nobody — including the front-office and coaching staff — could have predicted as recently as a month ago. The Steelers also have a new-look receiving corps that includes a rookie and a return-specialist who they traded for right before the start of the season.
Oh yes, and there’s the new offensive coordinator.
With the way all teams — not just the Steelers — prepare for the regular season by protecting their essential players during the preseason, it’s no wonder ugliness is so often a part of September football.
No, not all teams are looking ugly right now.
The Chiefs are a great example, as they’ve started out 3-0 and couldn’t look more dominant. The other day, as Kansas City’s first half score of 35-7 over the 49ers flashed on my television screen, I thought, “Man, the Steelers are not even in the Chiefs’ universe, let alone league.”
But then I caught myself and realized there are teams like the Chiefs each and every September. In fact, the Chiefs were that team last year, as they jumped out to a 5-0 start and beat up on the Super Bowl champion Patriots in the process. Kansas City was the new team-to-beat in the AFC. Kansas City was going to get over the hump and get to the Super Bowl. By the playoffs, Kansas City was the fourth seed and lost to the Titans at home in the first round.
Coaches like to tell you about how they don’t worry about what other teams are doing. “We can’t worry about what takes place in other stadiums,” Mike Tomlin is fond of saying.
While that’s not always true, it’s certainly true at this time of year.
It doesn’t matter who looks dominant now. What matters is who’s peaking in December and January, something the Steelers have been very good at in recent years.
After all the chaos, after all those penalties, after all those turnovers given up by the offense and big plays given up by the defense, the Steelers are 1-1-1.
That record looks ridiculous, but it’s only a half a game worse than Pittsburgh’s record last year at this time.
The Steelers don’t look like Super Bowl contenders right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re not.
Let’s see how they chart their course from here.