Kovacevic: Calm is right course for Steelers
By Dejan Kovacevic
, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, September 12, 2011
BALTIMORE — A stone-faced Mike Tomlin stood outside the Steelers' locker room in the bowels of M&T Bank Stadium, his arm extended to shake the hand of every sweaty, sullen player passing by. The coach's chin was up, his eyes wider than the gaps in his secondary, and he greeted each of his "men," as he calls them, with a firm grip.
But not a word.
And, really, what was he going to say after the all-encompassing, stomach-turning, seven-turnover 35-7 thrashing by the Baltimore Ravens?
Nice effort, fellas!
No, there's not much to be said about this one. And, by all accounts, not much was
said after the coach pulled that door closed. No paint was peeled, no fingers pointed.
As Tomlin succinctly opened his postgame news conference, "That's pretty easy to assess, ladies and gentlemen: We got handled in all three phases today."
More like man-handled.
Troy Polamalu couldn't keep pace with a tight end on a touchdown. Bryant McFadden couldn't cover a baby with a blanket. Brett Keisel and the defensive line were revolving doors for Ray Rice. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and the rest of the megabucks linebackers barely made Joe Flacco flinch. And James Farrior was, in a striking move, kept on the sideline much of the first half in favor of Larry Foote.
Tomlin and Farrior explained that the plan all along had been to use Foote regularly. Anyone who watched Foote yesterday would have a hard time digesting that.
On offense, Ben Roethlisberger flung the ball about the field with the recklessness of a rookie. Jonathan Scott was so mismatched against Terrell Suggs, they might as well have switched sides at the line of scrimmage. Maurkice Pouncey guessed wrong on a Suggs stunt to allow a sack. Doug Legursky practically invited another.
And that's to say nothing of four fumbles, three interceptions, a two-point conversion run by the punter and, yes, Tomlin clearly not having his players as ready as John Harbaugh did.
"We got our tails whupped," receiver Hines Ward said. "Players, coaches, all of us."
They sure did.
So, that's it, right?
The Steelers will never block anyone again, their quarterback will turn into a turnover machine, their talented receivers will never be a factor, the defense will allow every back 100-plus yards, Harrison and Woodley will never penetrate another backfield, the secondary will never cover anyone, and the team will finish 0-16. Maybe even get relegated to the CFL.
Or, it's not all that bad.
Sure, there are legitimate lessons to learn: Scott needs a challenger at left tackle, if not an immediate replacement. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians needs to be updated on a) the pedigree of his receivers and b) teams being allowed to put more than one body on a force like Suggs. And one of those young corners would do well to crash-course the position and steal it from McFadden. Like yesterday.
But the rest of it, really, felt more like a snowball than some sudden dropoff in status.
They still have a terrific skill set on both sides of the ball, still have the experience and drive of proven champions. And I'll repeat this: The nonsense about the defense being too old doesn't jibe with a calendar that shows they were the NFL's best just eight months ago.
At least not yet.
I asked Tomlin if the Steelers' defense looked slow, and he came back, "You know, we just didn't make enough plays. I'm not ready to judge it from a speed standpoint. We didn't turn around enough ball-carriers. We didn't get off on third down. We didn't create turnovers. Usually, speed is part of that equation, but I'm not ready to say that."
Overall, I'll stick with this: They just had a really, really bad day.
That's why I liked the reaction afterward, including Tomlin's handshake line. Most everyone stunk except Mike Wallace and Ike Taylor. Noses are held, and noses get put to the grindstone. No point in pouting or panicking. Get ready for Seattle in the home opener.
Some players embraced the negative.
"It's incredibly humbling, which obviously we needed at this point," Polamalu said.
Some were defiant.
"I know people are going to try to define our season with this one game," Woodley said. "We're not going to let that happen."
Mostly, though, the Steelers seemed to take solace in knowing they're dramatically better than this.
And they surely are.
"I think we'll be fine," Ward said, managing a small smile. "It's a prideful group of guys. It's not the end of our season or anything like that. But we definitely can't play another game like that."
That will be the time to start pounding fists rather than shaking hands.