The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 preseason was as dreadful as a preseason can get. Whether it was the injuries to players like Shaun Suisham and Maurkice Pouncey, the suspension to Martavis Bryant or the dismal performances routinely put on the field. It was downright bad.
After every one of the incidents listed above there were the typical knee jerk reactions from the fan base regarding how dire the situation was. Whether it was how Mike Tomlin could have had another kicker in training camp to avoid the injury to Shaun Suisham, or how the team would have been wise to re-sign players like Brice McCain to avoid having to trade a draft pick away for Brandon Boykin. These reactions are typical, especially for a fan base as involved as the Steelers.
However, what would normally follow the knee jerk reactions were the excuses, especially when it came to the team's performance on the field.
"Well, Shamarko Thomas has only played a handful of snaps alongside Mike Mitchell...that is probably why he is playing so poorly."
"The team can't stop the run because Lawrence Timmons isn't on the field. When he returns all will be well."
"Cody Wallace might not have had the best game, but he hasn't really played much recently. He will be able to fill the shoes of Maurkice Pouncey...he did it in 2013. Just needs to knock the rust off."
"Don't fret about the Steelers defense, Keith Butler is holding his cards close to the vest until the games actually count...just wait till Week 1."
If you follow the team on social media, or talk to any genuine optimistic fan, you have heard all of these excuses. After all, excuses make fans feel better, especially after the preseason from hell the Steelers just experienced. However, with the preseason now over, so ends the excuse season as well.
When the games start to count in just a few days when the team travels to Foxborough, MA to play the New England Patriots, the excuses which existed in the preseason will cease to be valid. After all, Stephon Tuitt, Mitchell and Timmons are all expected to return to the lineup for the Week 1 game, defensive coordinator Keith Butler will be pulling out all the stops to try and stop Tom Brady and company and the offense will have to shoulder the load as the team looks to pull off an upset on the NFL's prime time stage.
Now I am not naive enough to think people will stop making excuses. There will always be the apologists out there who will find any way possible to avoid stating those brash and harsh realities about something they care about so deeply. Some of the excuses you will likely hear, even after the game Thursday.
"The defense just needs time to gel. By the mid-year point they will be clicking on all cylinders."
"The offense wasn't as good...you know why? Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant aren't in the lineup. Just wait till they return."
"Maurkice Pouncey is the best center in the league. No one else can do what he does from the center position. When he returns after the bye week...watch out."
You get the picture. The only difference between the excuses fans have produced for the past 3 or more weeks compared to what is about the ensue on Thursday night is simple. These games count. As every fan longs to finally walk that "Stairway to Seven", the team simply needs to put a good performance on the field on a week-to-week basis. Not by taking semi-bye week losses to teams like the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014.
For those who are already queuing up those excuses for the water cooler on Friday morning, just let the team and the game play itself out. After all, it is a 16-game schedule, and one game - especially the first game - rarely makes or breaks the season.
Ladies and gentlemen, the preseason is over, and so should be the excuse season. For the Steelers in the locker room preparing for the Patriots...it is time to prove your worth. Steelers Nation is waiting with bated breath.