It has been said of New Englanders that baseball is not a matter of life and death, but the Boston Red Sox are. That’s how I feel about football and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers were soundly beaten last night by the New England Patriots, 41-27, ending their hopes to go to the Super Bowl. New England was clearly the better team, even though the Steelers had their chances. All the big plays were made by the Pats, and the Steelers couldn’t step up when opportunities arose. The defense allowed big plays; Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown; the running game was erratic; and maybe most damning of all was their inability to make a fourth-and-one early in the game. Pittsburgh always makes fourth-and-one by running it right up the gut. They tried it last night and New England stuffed them.
The loss wasn’t nearly as disappointing as the fact they didn’t play well. This isn’t Yankee-dom, where ultimate victory is all that counts and anything else isn’t just a disappointment, it’s unacceptable. The Steelers were 6–10 last year, 31st out of 32 teams in rushing, always a Pittsburgh staple. This year they introduced a rookie quarterback in the second game of the season and still went 15–1, helped in no small part by a running game that ranked second in the league.
Coach Bill Cowher will take a lot of abuse today for losing his fourth conference championship game in five tries, all of them at home. It’s tough, but I’d just like to ask all of those demanding changes to think about whether they’d prefer trading Cowher in on any number of coaches who receive a lot of ink and never even make the playoffs.
The Super Bowl will be kind of a let down here at The Home Office now. Getting geared up as the Steelers go deep into the playoffs always makes it difficult to care what anyone else does, unless they might eventually play the Steelers. For now it’s fun to look back at the highlights (and there are plenty of them when you go 16–2, including playoffs) and look forward to next year, as many of the core players returning with another year of experience under their belts.
Besides, summer is almost here: pitchers and catchers report in a month.