The Steelers may have won the game, 29-27, over the Bears this past Monday night at Heinz Field, but they clearly lost the secondary battle also known as style points.
Style points never really mattered to the Steelers before, even when they had much more talented football teams and were expected to play at a beautiful level more often than not.
These 2021 Steelers, well, they sure ain’t pretty. In fact, if I were to describe their style, I would say it reminds me an awful lot of Charles Barkley’s golf swing—it’s just terrible (no offense to him). But Barkley does seem to play a lot of golf, so he must enjoy it, right?
I thought we were enjoying these current Steelers in spite of their ugly swings on offense, defense and even special teams. After all, this was a team that wasn’t expected to win more than eight or nine games during the regular season. Ben Roethlisberger was old. The offensive line was young. The offensive coordinator was unproven. The defense was missing Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson.
Like I said all throughout the offseason, the Steelers had the roster of a team that would likely finish anywhere between 7-10 and 10-7 depending on how a few key moments played out over the course of their 17-game schedule.
Here we are today, and as of this writing, the Steelers are 5-3 and about to take on the winless Lions at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon. So why the long faces? Why the sense of dread following Pittsburgh’s close victory against the Bears on Monday Night Football?
You’d think the Steelers lost that game. It’s like folks are suddenly realizing that the team isn’t a juggernaut. If so, why are you suddenly realizing that? Because the game was so close? Did you really think the gap between the two teams was that great? Newsflash: it never really was. That was all in your mind. That was your cliched “The Steelers always play down to the level of competition” groupthink cluttering your brain.
You already knew the Steelers weren’t a juggernaut. I mean, you spent the entire offseason talking about it. You wanted them to tank after that 1-3 start and put themselves in a position to pick a quarterback early in the 2022 NFL Draft. (Btw, I was at the Pitt/UNC game on Thursday night, and both Kenny Pickett and Sam Howell look like first-round talents.)
Anyway, the Steelers started winning games after that ugly three-week stretch, but their victories over the Broncos, Seahawks and Browns were far from pretty. In fact, they were downright hideous.
Therefore, what did you expect from this game against the Bears? It’s not like they were playing Northern Illinois. They were taking on an NFL team with a fairly decent defense, even without Khalil Mack in action.
Is this dissatisfaction with the Bears victory that whole “Well, if they’re not a Super Bowl contender, there’s no point in getting excited about them” mentality so many Steelers fans have? If so, you should lose that. You know why? The 2021 Steelers are starting to become a pretty decent story. Nobody expected much from them this year. Heck, I doubt most people are expecting much from them even after a four-game winning streak. They might have an old quarterback, but they’re potentially building something special with the rest of that offense; they have three youngsters—including two rookies—starting on the line. Also, a quick trivia question: Who has scored the Steelers last five offensive touchdowns? If you said rookie running back Najee Harris (two) and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth (three), you would be correct. That’s right, the team’s first two selections in the 2021 NFL Draft are quickly morphing into its two biggest contributors on offense.
As for the defense, it’s not as elite as it’s been in recent years, but it’s still pretty darn good. It’s probably good enough to win a game or two in the postseason provided the young offense with the old quarterback can ultimately take its production to another level.
Will the Steelers have their way with the Lions? Probably not. The Lions might be winless, but they’ve held their own against some good teams—including a Ravens squad that’s been winning every bit as ugly as the Steelers have in 2021 while maintaining a more legit status for some reason.
Thankfully, Baltimore, that very legit Super Bowl contender, lost to the lowly Dolphins on Thursday Night Football and is on the verge of sharing first place with the Steelers in the AFC North.
That’s right, I said it (no jinx), if the Steelers knock off Detroit on Sunday afternoon (even by one measly point), they’ll be in first place with two months of football left to play.
I think that would be an exciting development.
Would you then be convinced of the Steelers' legitimacy? Yeah, me either, but who cares?
This Steelers team may not be pretty to watch, and it may have taken “winning ugly” to a whole new left last Monday night, but you have to admire the guts and determination.
Enjoy the ride.