In today’s NFL, nothing is guaranteed. While some believe they can pick winners and analyze game spreads, nothing is a lock in the pros. While fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers long for consistency on the field (you know, only the occasional flop against sub-.500 teams), the franchise with an NFL-high six Lombardi trophies still is the model of consistency.
We know all about the team having had only three head coaches since 1969, but this goes far beyond mere coaching stability. It has everything to do with the Ben Roethlisberger era, the James Harrison era and the Tomlin-never-suffering-a-losing-season era. Pittsburgh is one of the few teams in the NFL that can say it’s a consistent contender. While contending doesn’t always translate to a championship parade, fans of the Black-and-gold should realize what good fortune they have.
As an example of what the alternative resembles, consider the Cleveland Browns, who’ve been a dumpster fire ever since re-entering the NFL.
Yeah, I’ll stick with consistency, thank you very much.
Time to check on the news outside the walls of BTSC:
I love Maurkice Pouncey’s explanation of why there are no easy games in the NFL, why the league is the most unpredictable in all of sports, why you see upsets every week such as the Steelers beating the unbeaten Chiefs, the winless New York Giants beating the Broncos in Denver and the Miami Dolphins climbing out of a 17-0 hole in the third quarter to win at Atlanta against the defending NFC champion Falcons.
“There are no homecoming games in this league,” Pouncey said. “We can’t pay a team $900,000 to come here and play. It doesn’t work like that.”
We’re hard on the Steelers when they lose to touchdown-underdog teams such as the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. But those kinds of games happen every week in the NFL. Sunday was one of the more bizarre days. The Steelers’ 19-13 win at Kansas City wasn’t even close to being the biggest upset, but who could have predicted that a defense yielding a combined 451 rushing yards in the losses to the Bears and Jaguars would hold the NFL’s top rusher, Kareem Hunt, to a mere 21 yards on nine carries? The Giants were 11½-point underdogs at Denver, the Dolphins 13½-point underdogs at Atlanta. Chicago, which was a 7-point underdog, went to Baltimore and did the Steelers a big favor by beating the Ravens in overtime.
Nothing that happens on an NFL weekend surprises Pouncey.
“It’s super hard to win even one game in this league. I wish there was Jamboree. That would make things a lot easier.”
“Jamboree is like the first game in little league,” Pouncey said, grinning. “See, you learn something every day, don’t you?”
What we’ve long known is that the New England Patriots’ staying power is nothing less than phenomenal. They’ve won eight consecutive division titles and 14 in the past 16 years. Sure, they’ve benefited by playing in the lame AFC East, but that doesn’t explain their six consecutive trips to the AFC championship and five Super Bowl wins since 2001.
The Steelers can’t match the Patriots’ success, but their achievements have been remarkable nonetheless. They haven’t had a losing season since they went 6-10 in 2003 under Bill Cowher. Mike Tomlin is headed toward his 11th consecutive non-losing season and perhaps much more.
The NFL has been transformed into a passing league. It’s the new age of football, we’re told, and old adages such as “pass to score, run to win” are outdated. The route to a championship is through the air, and the most important defenders are corners. That’s why the Steelers’ 19-13 win against Kansas City was so refreshing — it was built almost entirely around the running game on both sides of the ball.
The Steelers made it clear they were going to run right at the Chiefs and dare them to stop it. They also made it clear that Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt wasn’t going to beat them. That game plan worked brilliantly on both sides.
Le’Veon Bell ran 32 times for 179 yards and a touchdown. He was a large part of a dominant Steelers rushing attack that compiled 194 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. The Steelers had 23 first downs with 13 via the run. Those numbers speak volumes about the work the offensive line did all day long against the Chiefs’ front-seven.
Hunt is in the midst of an excellent rookie season and he seemed to be steamrolling his way to the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award. But on Sunday he met a Steelers defense that resembled the old Steel Curtain. He had nowhere to run and finished with nine carries for 21 yards, averaging a meager 2.3 yards per carry. His longest run went for 5 yards.
The Chiefs rushed for a total of 28 yards, an amazing turnaround for a Steelers defense that was run over in losses to the Jaguars and Bears. The Steelers’ rushing defense was among the NFL’s worst statistically coming into Sunday’s game. But then, surprisingly, they showed the ability to dominate against the run.
It’s a lot more exciting, of course, to watch Ben Roethlisberger fling the ball all over the field, but the Steelers’ path to a Super Bowl starts on the ground.
Mike Tomlin has witnessed his share of off-field drama this season—the national anthem controversy in Chicago being the biggest inferno among the fires seemingly engulfing the Steelers on a weekly basis.
That was followed by Antonio Brown's bout with a Gatorade cooler in Baltimore and Ben Roethlisberger's flippant response when he said, “maybe I don't have it anymore” in the aftermath of a 5-interception outing against Jacksonville.
Then came the Martavis Bryant trade report following the Steelers' 19-13 win at Kansas City on Sunday night, which the Steelers’ coach equated to a smoulder rather than a flaming inferno.
“I don't know that this is a legitimate distraction,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Martavis has been very open about the fact that it's a non-issue for him. We believe him, so we're moving forward.”
Bryant addressed the NFL Network report on Monday, saying he didn’t request a trade and he’s happy playing for the Steelers.
Tomlin said Bryant didn’t come to him expressing any displeasure with the team.
“I've had good, fluid communication with Martavis throughout this process, like I have with other players,” Tomlin said. “He was a big contributor to our efforts on Sunday. He was excited like everybody else. I don't know where these reports come from. Sometimes they come from family members or people close to them. Sometimes they come from agents.
“I don't judge him or my relationship with him based on things said by others. He appears to be happy and focused.”
There's apparently nothing wrong with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown collectively that one spectacular splash-play can't cure.
But let's flash back first to an earlier point in the Steelers' 19-13 victory over the previously undefeated Chiefs on Sunday evening at Arrowhead Stadium—back to when Ben threw his lone interception.
This ought to be a one-handed jam for these guys. It’s a simple slant, with AB running a route he’s run so often that he probably traces the steps in his sleep.
Only one problem, and it was obvious—he stops running.
This was in the second quarter with the Steelers up by six, and the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters returned the pick to midfield. The defense then rendered that moot, so the damage was minimal.
As were the repercussions, apparently.
“Yeah, I’m not sure what happened,” Ben began when asked what he saw. “But yeah, he’s got a quick little slant route and I told him, ‘Boy, I wish you would’ve kept going because it would’ve been … ’ He might have come out the back door.”
Right. He’d still be running.
Immediately on the field, AB found his quarterback, looked his way and flapped his arms. Only this time, unlike Baltimore, it wasn’t in frustration. It was with accountability.