After a very unbrotherly and not loving at all beatdown by the Philadelphia Eagles by the score of 35-13 the Pittsburgh Steelers go taking on water into their bye week drowning in a sea of questions with answers nowhere to be seen on any distant shores.
Never before have Coach Mike Tomlin and his coaching team of sidekicks appeared to be so Lost on the sidelines and with the smoke monster of a squandered season lurking, despair might be all left to serve on the Thanksgiving table.
But worry not dear waterlogged Steelers Nation. Wring those sopping wet tears out of your Terrible Towels, there are brighter days ahead. Merely because it would be difficult to be any darker.
As for me, faithful fan that I am, I continue to watch each and every play with hopeful aspirations although it’s required toothpicks holding up my eyelids to bear witnessing the drama unfolding.
Could this 2-6 season truly be ours to bear this year and for several years of rebuilding more?
Or do we have them right where we want them, with the crafty locker room genius Tomlin prepared to unleash a hellish fury of redemption like the team has never before unfurled?
For answers at the back of the book and more, let’s give it a Spin.
There is nothing more divisive to a sports team and its fans than a losing record. Just as wins are apt to bring players to tears as they express their profound love and dedication to their Band of Brothers, it also makes merry lifelong friends of fans far and near.
Losing? The opposite. It unleashes the caldrons of armchair geniuses who won’t stop vomiting out, “I’ve been telling yous people for years, the guy’s a bum. They’re all bums. Every last stinking one of them. I’ve been telling yous people for years.”
Sadly, it also creates the most unbearable offshoot of fans, those syrupy, shrilling types who roll off, “If you were a real fan…” in all variations of an indigestible theme.
Apparently, even if your team is 0-17, your coaches spend their weekdays at the local casinos getting drunk and the players are already working on their golf games you’re not permitted to utter a stray word of discontent.
Hobblebashy to both of you, quite frankly. Real fans continue to watch, wear the shirts…but they are free to comment on what’s on display on the field and all of the actions that originally put these players on the field.
After all, what NFL franchise is worth a bean without millions of general managers, head coaches and play callers?
In losing seasons, playing head coach and general manager is all of the joy we have left.
So enough of your “real fan” pontifications. Please.
Bye Bye Weeks
Unfortunately, modern day National Football League fans are delusional in thinking that players actually look towards the Bye weeks as a way to “right the ship.”
Heck no. They gone. That’s all that matters.
It’s been many versions of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement ago when things like spring training, preseason and bye weeks actually mattered. As in many, many, many years ago when players were truly getting coached up and practices mirrored in any remote fashion real game day play.
It’s true, NFL coaches are the best in the world. The organizations invest incomparable amounts of resources in facilities, physical therapy and spa treatments. It’s the best of the best.
But if you’re expecting the Steelers to rise out of the ashes like a Phoenix due to these two weeks off? Then you’ve been spending too much time partying at Robert Kraft’s wedding.
The Bye week to players? Vacation. ‘Tis all.
There are many Steelers fans who are so amusing. They’ve been so punch drunk on this idea the pinnacle of success is merely winning more games than you lose each season that they have completely lost the plot when it comes to earning an NFL Championship.
Because of this, they claim that any attempt whatsoever to look ahead to the future can only mean that you are completely tanking this season.
If you play a younger player with a brighter future over a grizzled veteran then you have thrown in the towel, given up the Ghost, disrespected the game and have betrayed all that is and ever was considered to be the Pittsburgh Steelers way.
The truth of the matter is that NFL practices have become so utterly toothless that the only way to get battle experience is to play on Sundays. Or Mondays. And, Thursdays. Then an occasional Saturday. Yes, the modern day NFL is confusing.
The only way players make it to the next level is by playing under the lights of a roaring stadium. It’s a gamble because kids are just as capable of making a mess as they are of making their parents proud, but these are painful investments you need to make. Even if it costs you a win here or there.
This was the fatal flaw in team’s seemingly pure focus on winning regular season records the last decade. You’re only living in today.
The teams winning championships are those who have been able to play three-dimensional chess. They are focused on winning today while at the same time being intent on being better eight months from now, and championship grade two years later.
Real game playing time and investing trust in your young, promising players is the magic elixir of building champions. It’s the only way they get better, and it’s also the only way to know if they are busts.
Can you swim in the NFL? Here, meet the deep end of the pool.
For the Steelers to get back on the pathway to greatness they have to start thinking more time dimensionally. Every decision needs to be about now…and the future.
That’s not tanking. That’s smart football.
The Best Decision Not Made
The Steelers choice of shipping out Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a second-round draft pick is an excellent example of looking toward the future.
It should be noted that Claypool had fallen somewhat out of favor with coaches and the locker room the past year. It probably was an easier decision for them to make than outsiders would think.
Yet it doesn’t make it any less shrewd. The Steelers are desperate for draft picks to make their offensive line NFL grade and getting another second rounder for next year will prove hugely valuable.
The addition of William Jackson III to the roster for practically nothing is more evidence the organization chose wisely by crowning Omar Khan as their general manager this year.
However, the best decision not made was the one where they said “No” to the attractive option of shipping off Cameron Heyward for probably princely treasures.
Although Heyward would have provided an immense boost to the defensive line play of one of the top teams this year, it would have meant literally trading away the heart and soul of the Steelers organization.
There have been greater players than Heyward in this millennium. Many of them actually.
But there have been no greater Pittsburgh Steeler. Heyward is one of those rare exceptions where he should have a place on this team even if he needs to show up to practice with a walker with tennis balls.
The Sun Will Come Out
Even though the Steelers have been totally blown out by NFL royalty multiple times this year they remain to be highly watchable, all toothpick jokes aside.
It’s true, they are far away from being serious competitors in the league but they do offer hope for entertainment in each and every play.
It seems strange, but they are enjoyable to cheer for even when they are getting toasted.
That being said, they really don’t seem that far off from being able to win these games. Especially against their more evenly matched opponents.
The losses this year been the result of a series of many unfortunate tipped passes and deep bombs barely passing through our defensive players’ outstretched hands. They’ve been in a position to make the plays, they just haven’t made them.
The scores and outcomes could have been radically different based on early game-changing plays.
All of this to say that a turnaround in the remaining nine games is not out of the question. That’s right, there’s still nine regular season games. No reason to fold up your tents already.
Pittsburgh would need to win seven out of nine of these to have a fighting chance to make it in the playoffs which seems unthinkable with the way they’ve been playing.
But the good news is the hardest part of their schedule is behind them.
Coach Tomlin has made it clear he won’t be making any significant coaching changes, so we’ll have to hope that he’s right and Einstein had it all wrong. That insanity is the right way to finish the year.
Let’s hope his coaching decisions are future thinking and that we don’t bankrupt tomorrow purely with the goal of fruitlessly striving to keep that non-losing season streak alive moving forward.
Hopefully, we’ll say Bye to that approach forever.
Because the greatest comeback ever is ultimately about turning this franchise into champions once again.