It was nigh on 4:45 AM by the time the clock ticked down to zero at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. Far too late, I think you'll agree, to be writing anything.
Instead, I scribbled down a quick list, just to jog my memory when I got around to it. It looked a little something like this: Julian Edelman, third down, red zone, rust, tackling, drive-killing penalties, lack of synergy, shooting themselves in the foot, mild coaching, stunningly mediocre special teams, swiss cheese secondary, QB sneak?
I'll address each of these in due course, but I think it's important to note that this is not a doom-and-gloom, fire-the-Rooneys type of article. Instead, it's merely pointing out that, for better or worse, this has been a well traveled road for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was approximately 340 days ago when the utterly dismal Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived at Heinz Field and pulled what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets of the 2014 season. Without lingering too much on such a painful memory, the 2-14 Bucs defeated the Steelers on a last-second touchdown, capping what was a torturous opening four weeks of the season and putting an exclamation mark on what ailed the Steelers.
Week 4 saw the zenith of Steelers' misery in 2014 and, even at the time, you could tell it was the perfect encapsulation of what had been going wrong. The team couldn't tackle, they were committing back-breaking penalties, they couldn't finish in the red zone, the secondary was mind-numbingly poor, and they couldn't get off of the field on third down.
There was other stuff but I won't belabor the point.
It was the continuation of a recent trend wherein the Steelers start the season slow.
The coaching staff rightly took some heat for it, but we all know that things turned around and it eventually worked out quite well, to the tune of a division championship and a playoff berth.
What struck me about Thursday were the similarities to the Buccaneers game one year ago.
The secondary was just awful, same as it was last year and in all likelihood the same as it will be this time next year. It was a stage-10 meltdown in performance and communication. There will be no day in the sun for the Steelers secondary this year; the best to be hoped for is leveling out to slightly below mediocre. It's far from a death sentence, but it's best just to accept that the Steelers secondary will drag whole games down to its level occasionally.
The defense could just not get off the field on third down. 3rd and short, 3rd and 5 or 3rd and long, it made no difference. Julian Edelman had 11 receptions on Thursday night, and at it felt like 23 of them went for 1st downs. A combination of poor coverage and the speed at which Brady was throwing completely nullified the pass rush.
The tackling was abysmal, especially considering the Steelers returned something like 10 starters on defense, most of whom can be considered veterans. And when I say abysmal, I mean really, truly awful.
Drive killing penalties were prevalent on offense. Instead of 2nd and 8, it's second and 18 because an offensive lineman held, effectively ending the drive. False starts in the red zone, it goes on and on.
It's essentially just rust, which is pretty absurd considering they had five preseason games, but there you have it...rust. This is where the coaching staff comes into it. It's inexcusable to come into week 1 that ill prepared, especially on defense. Sloppy penalties, sloppy tacking technique, terrible defensive communications, it's a year after year problem now. The Pittsburgh Steelers come out of the gate limping.
However, all of the above being said, things are actually looking up.
The Steelers shot themselves in the foot on Thursday, no doubt about that. If they don't false start on the 1-yard line, and punch the ball in, it's a one score game. If Darrius Heyward-Bey had even a smidgen of situational awareness, the Steelers would have been carrying heaps of momentum.
And of course let's not forget that Josh Scobee metaphorically shot the Steelers with his literal foot...twice.
It's all correctable and, frankly, if you're going to take your lumps anywhere you want it to be on the road, in Week 1, to the defending champions on your only Thursday night game of the year.
There's also something to be said for the fact that Head Coach Mike Tomlin has excelled in these situations his entire career. He's a motivator and he's never once been in danger of losing his locker room, even during the disastrous start to the 2013 season. The players buy into his culture and he'll keep hammering home his message, his teachable moments that we all like to mock, until they start to take effect, much like they have during the past two years.
Finally, here's three tangentially related parting shots.
First, the Steelers have long had a problem with synergy. The offense and defense are horrible at playing off of each other. This was perfectly highlighted Thursday night when Will Allen crushed Brady on a safety blitz. Big stop, Steelers defense finally makes a play, and the Steelers offense proceeds to punt on the ensuing drive. This has been a thorn in the team's side for two years and counting.
Second, why does Danny Smith still have a job? The Steelers special teams are so astoundingly average that it defies all logic, a streak that continued on Thursday with another completely ho-hum day at the office. They weren't beat as much as they didn't beat anyone. Another day at the office. This will be his third season in charge, and hopefully his last if nothing changes.
Third, have the Steelers never considered a QB sneak? Ben Roethlisberger is 6-foot 5- inches tall and around 230-pounds. The Steelers had been pushing the Patriots defensive line around all night. They've got some pretty big guys up front and the ball is on the 1-yard line with four downs to play with. It surely can't be only me that thinks maybe they should just borrow a page from Joe Flacco and Tom Brady's book and punch it in there with Ben, one of the strongest quarterbacks of his generation.
Things may have looked bad at time Thursday night, but things also could be looking up soon...real soon.