The skies over Pittsburgh have been steel colored for much of the last week. Occasional bouts of sunshine will break out, but the clouds force their way back in, hanging down low over the city. It’s fitting. Sports talk radio is full of callers still a little in shock at the collapse of the Pirates. After looking like they were headed for the playoffs all summer, they will end up in point of fact with their 20th straight losing season. The fan base, loyal but critical, is reeling from the disappointment. Penguins fans such as myself are in full blown mourning, angry and frustrated over the third work stoppage in 17 years. I got so desperate I tried to stream a KHL game over the Internet last week. Then there are the Steelers sitting at 1-2.
I read an article theorizing that we’re witnessing the “Third Year” syndrome, making the case that the Steelers miss the playoffs every third year. Well, if that’s true, there are a lot of teams (the Chiefs and Browns key among them) who are hardly going to send us any sympathy cards. But, as I read all the reasons that the Steelers could be in large trouble unless…I decided that the same argument could be made that the Steelers could be poised to have a successful season still.
• With regular officials back in the game, the coaches and players can get back to the business of football without having to worry about the wild card aspect irregular officiating. Already we saw a return to a better flow and command of the game on Thursday. That helps all teams of course, but I would argue that a return to normalcy on the field helps the Steelers and other teams like them in particular that are struggling with other internal injuries and issues.
• Ben Roethlisberger is playing at a very high level. Eight touchdowns v. one interception, 904 yards and a QB rating of 109.2. Critics point out that the Steelers led most of the way in both games they lost. That can be turned around as well. The Steelers had a legitimate chance to win both games. The offensive line, despite already being banged up and full of substitutions, is protecting Big Ben, and he’s looking in great form.
• Mike Wallace looks pretty good, doesn’t he? He’ll only improve as he gets more comfortable with the new offensive scheme. He’s got a big incentive to look good this year, hoping his performance will get him a big contract in the off-season. Hopefully the team will use that.
• Look at the caliber of teams also sitting at 1-2. The New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers (although they shouldn’t be) among a number of other teams that are scratching their heads wondering how the Arizona Cardinals got to be 3-0. Face it, it has been a topsy-turvy season, but the ship should begin to right itself now, and we’ve got a bye week for the team to rest up, heal up and hopefully we can get some key players back on the field.
• The Ravens look beatable. If the Browns had a chance to tie the game at the end, then one has to believe that the age of their defense makes them vulnerable.
• We still get to the play the Cleveland Browns twice.
I am like everyone else: worried about the defense, worried about the running game, and flummoxed at how the Raiders won that game. But, I am not willing to throw in the Terrible Towel on the season quite yet.