It really has been a maddening roller coaster ride of a 2021 NFL season for every card carrying member of Steelers Nation. They fluctuate between atrocious to average to awesome from game to game, from half to half, even series to series. They will follow up a brilliant play with a completely boneheaded one, an all-out effort with a half hearted one. The Steelers squad that seemingly saved their season with an inspirational home victory over their arch rival Baltimore Ravens came out flat and uninspired four days later against the Minnesota Vikings on the road.
Just how bad were the Steelers in the first two and a half quarters of the game? Honestly, they were arguably the worst team in the NFL I have had the displeasure of viewing this season during that extended stretch of game action. That's coming from a fanatical Steelers fan who has watched at least bits and pieces of every team in the league this season. Also from a devoted supporter who hates overreaction and hyperbole. As much as it pains me to say, the truth is the truth. The Steelers were terrible on both sides of the ball for two and a half quarters of football, by any conceivable metrics.
Once again, I find myself struggling to find the slightest positives and words of encouragement to share with my fellow faithful Steelers brethren, but here we go. If the Steelers can somehow bottle the type of effort and execution they displayed in the final quarter and a half of the game, they can still be a playoff contender. That falls on the coaches and the players moving forward. The coaches have tough personnel and scheme decisions moving forward, and the players have to do some serious soul searching needed for a team first refocus and to address maturity issues.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Ben Roethlisberger
I saw countless comments and tweets from frustrated Steelers fans who simply couldn't take any more of the carnage and turned off the game. While I fully understand their frustration, that really is a shame because they missed some classic Big Ben and one of the greatest comeback attempts I have ever seen. Sadly the rally came up just short when Roethlisberger's perfect last gasp throw was knocked from Freiermuth's grasp at the last second. Nice effort from Freiermuth, just a better play by Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Like a wise man once said, the defensive guys get paid to.
Even more than in his dominant second half performance against the Los Angeles Chargers, Roethlisberger was throwing darts during the improbable comeback. Unbelievable may be the more accurate adjective, considering the utter lack of support from his teammates up to that point.
Former teammates and opponents were raving about how well Ben was throwing the ball on Twitter and social media, and marveling at how he has always been the consummate winner. Multiple Steelers legends were calling out the currant Steelers for their lack of effort and commitment just a couple of weeks prior. Now some of the same legends were raving about Ben's performance. Terry Bradshaw paid him the highest compliment, saying he was a QB who he would turn on the TV to see, and praised his will to win.
Midway through the third quarter, I wanted the Steelers to take Roethlisberger out of the game. The Steelers were completely out of sorts on offense, and Ben was taking a beating. It looked like a reenactment of The Longest Yard movie where the offensive line was trying to punish the QB for taking a bribe. I wanted the Steelers to protect Ben from himself and his own stubborn competitiveness. He was having none of that idea. There is absolutely no quit in the man. One can only hope that his teammates are paying attention.
Roethlisberger's accuracy and velocity were on point throughout the contest, which shouldn't have come as any surprise, as he has wondered aloud what his numbers would look like now if he would have played his whole career in the climate controlled conditions of a domed stadium. He answered any remaining questions about his arm strength at 39 years of age loud and clear. His best pass of the game, maybe the season, was his final bullet of the night. Under the circumstances, that was a perfect throw. The kind of pass reserved for one of the all time greats, the ultimate warrior and winner, and first ballot HOF inductee. Keep in mind, he had two TD passes dropped during the epic comeback attempt. He even scrambled 5 yards for a first down early in the game. He also displayed incredible concentration and hand eye coordination to coral a plethora of wayward shotgun snaps. Holding the Steelers back? Give me a break!
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Mike Tomlin
This is actually hard to write and acknowledge out loud, as I have always been a huge Mike Tomlin supporter. I believe him to be a honorable gentleman and charitable individual. He has been a stabilizing presence in the organization and in the community. I applauded his considerable efforts trying to navigate the drama filled minefield that was LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown in an effort to bring another Lombardi Trophy to the Steel City. By all accounts, he went above and beyond trying to appease their gigantic egos because of their elite talent, until it all blew up in his face.
Tomlin has a excellent relationship with the Rooneys, GM Kevin Colbert, and Ben Roethlisberger. I would say truly unique in this day and age. The majority of players, even on opposing teams, speak openly about their respect for the man. They applaud how he treats each of his players with respect, like men. Therein lies the current problem, and a troublesome unanswered question. How does he handle players who refuse to behave like men, like adults for that matter? Whether the Steelers win another game this season or not, that question has to be answered.
Tomlin has had the stability of the Steelers organization and the Rooney family, Colbert, and Ben Roethlisberger since he took over as head coach. Two of those trusted colleagues could be gone as soon as next season, as many believe that Roethlisberger and Colbert will ride off into the sunset together.
Tomlin and the Steelers have suffered numerous embarrassing losses this season, games where their maturity and intestinal fortitude have openly been questioned. They have avoided a couple of others, but only after Roethlisberger has rallied the troops and engineered impressive almost comebacks. Even though each came up just short, the excitement of their late game success has been mildly encouraging and deflected attention away from obvious shortcomings in the coaching staff.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest issues is the "me first" attitude and lack of maturity with some of the players. Whether it's damaging personal foul penalties during or after the play for taunting or an inability to control one's temper, the constant over the top celebrations that almost seem mandatory after every play where the player did nothing more than their job; regardless of the score or time left on the clock, I might add. Throw in a lack of awareness from many of these same individuals, and you have the makings of a fractured locker room and a losing football team.
A lack of talent and quality depth is one thing, but the lack of attention to detail is another. Teams have banded together to overcome the first ailment through hard work and determination many times over the years, but few have survived the latter.
So as much as I wanted to chastise the selfish and childish behavior of Chase Claypool as the stock trending down, I feel the blame has to start at the top with the man who calls the shots, and sets the tone for the entire roster. As much as some would love to blame Ben Roethlisberger, that's definitely not his job.
Apparently many of the haters have forgotten how he has been lambasted for even the slightest perceived criticism toward any teammate in his career. No, this situation falls directly at the feet of Mike Tomlin, and the buck stops with him. I feel certain he would agree. If he is half the leader I believe him to be, he will quickly nip it in the bud.
The worst run defense in Steelers history, combined with a coaching staff that hasn't quite been up to snuff, now solutions to those issues are another matter altogether.