Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steelers Hit Bottom

If it wasn't for Tiger Woods, the complete collapse of the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past month would be the most extreme and inexplicable story of failure of the sports year.

After ending Minnesota's perfect season, and beating the one-loss Broncos in their home stadium, the Steelers have gradually fallen apart until they hit bottom tonight--because after losing in humiliating fashion to the previously one-victory Cleveland Browns, there's nowhere deeper to fall.

The only good thing about this game was that I couldn't see it. I can only imagine what's going on in Pittsburgh tonight. But what I saw on SportsCenter was amazing--the team that won the Super Bowl in January, couldn't play football: they couldn't tackle, they couldn't block (Big Ben was sacked eight times), they couldn't catch the football. Cleveland scored its first rushing touchdown of the year. The Steelers barely tried to run against a porous run defense.

The defense failed (again), the offense failed, the special teams failed (again) and the coaching failed, big time.

It's been a blur of a fall. Five losses in a row, three of them to some of the worst teams in the NFL, the last one to the absolute worst team. After four consecutive losses, there was only one way to save the season: a 44-0 pasting of the Browns. Instead the Steelers didn't score a touchdown.

After last week's loss to Oakland--a team admittedly on the rise, as I suggested here--I thought it was all but certain that next year would see an all-new coaching staff under head coach Mike Tomlin. The revered defensive coordinator will retire, and the rest will be fired. Now some of those coaches may not make it through this season, and Tomlin's job is in jeopardy for next year. One of the Post-Gazette stories blames the team for lack of effort, for letting Tomlin down. But Tomlin may not escape so easily. Missed tackles, dropped passes, and a loss to the Browns--especially to the Browns--is not going to be overlooked or forgotten.

This isn't going to be an easy fix. Before tonight, the return of a couple of key starters to the defense conceivably could have turned things around. But not anymore. Once things start to unravel like this, all bets are off. It may be years before the Steelers become a good team again. Having lived through the Bubby Brister years, the Cordell Stewart years, the Neil O'Donnell throwing two interceptions to throw the Super Bowl and then leave town years, I'm not looking forward to it. Although the explanations of why all this happened might be interesting.

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