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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Steelers vs Patriots—AFC Championship Edition

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What worked and what didn’t in yet another loss to the Patriots.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I had to put a decent amount of thought into this article after the giant turd the Steelers left on the field at Gillette Sunday night. This was fueled by a few extra adult beverages, so please excuse me if this doesn’t sound all rose-colored glasses. I can’t even begin to put lipstick on that pig. Anyway, let’s take a look at the three categories.

The Good:

  • Maybe, just maybe, the Steelers’ brass saw that they needed to start molding this team into something that can really compete with the top teams in the league. Maybe the coaching staff can look at this as something to build on. Chances are the Steelers will be a very good team again next year. But in order to get to the promised land, they need to be great. Greatness comes in many forms. One of those forms is the ability to change on the fly from something that isn’t working to something that will put you in a position to be successful. Once again, this didn’t happen against the Patriots, but the hope is that Mike Tomlin and company can use this as their own “teaching moment” and find out how to mold this talented roster into a great team.

The Bad:

  • Losing Le’Veon Bell to injury early in the game qualifies as bad. We can argue all day about whether or not he would have been successful, but we’ll never know. I’d like to believe he would have helped this offense and sparked some magic to put more points on the board. I had him pegged to be the MVP for this game, given the way he played through the first two weeks of the post-season.

The Ugly (lots of it):

  • Tackling and coverage, or lack thereof. By the end of the third quarter I believe that I heard Phil Simms say that the Patriots’ receivers had accumulated over 175 yards after the catch. But it looked more like 250+ the way the secondary failed to tackle Julian Edelmann, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. Calling the secondary listless as a unit is an understatement. These receivers were constantly wide open and then they bounced their way off of defenders all evening.
  • I lost count on dropped passes by Pittsburgh receivers at seven. Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates and Jesse James all dropped passes that, if caught, would’ve counted for first downs and, still worse, touchdowns. Yes I’ve heard Ben Roethlisberger comment that maybe the moment was too big for the younger players. That sounds like an excuse that Steelers Nation isn’t going to like very much. This fan base expects more. The bar has been set and the team fell short again.
  • Goal-line offense. What happened to this dominating offensive line? The Patriots were in the backfield the second after the ball was snapped, leaving nowhere for DeAngelo Williams to run.
  • Coaching and adjustments, particularly on defense, really let the fans down. I’m not good enough at film breakdown to tell you what exactly the Steelers were doing on every snap. We all heard that Tom Brady was having his way with the Steelers’ secondary, particularly when then the Steelers played zone defense. The fans don’t care what it was; they just want it fixed and they want results. They got neither in this game. The Patriots’ coaching staff and their Hall of Fame quarterback were one step ahead of the Steelers’ defense throughout the game.

The bottom line is this: the Steelers were outplayed, outclassed and out-coached for sixty minutes. Sure, there were a few individual performances that deserve some credit but, as a team, they looked like the junior varsity squad. It’s one thing to go into Foxboro and lose a tight game. It’s quite another to go there and get dominated from start to finish, especially in the AFC Championship game, after winning their last nine in a row. And it hurts that much more because it’s the Patriots. They’ve been taking the Steelers’ lunch money over and over again against Tomlin’s teams. The Steelers’ off-season started too early, and I’ll be rooting for the Atlanta Falcons to embarrass touchdown Tommy and his gang on Super Bowl Sunday.

Maybe the Penguins can repeat.