Quick disclaimer: Any sexual innuendos in this piece are unintentional and purely coincidental. That said, the Steelers roster had a lot going for it in 2011. It looked good overall, was experienced at many positions, cutely inexperienced at others, and gritty yet charming. Their fan base, per usual, was justifiably smitten. Then a young studly Bronco stepped in and with a single flick of his wrist rudely backdoored the innocent hopefuls, leaving them teary-eyed, stunned, and not sure whether to call the authorities.
So on paper the Steelers did have a damn fine season, going 12-4 in what proved to be the toughest division in the AFC, and booking their sixth trip to the playoffs in the last eight years. And get this: of their four regular season losses, all of them were to eventual division winners (Houston, San Francisco, and Baltimore twice). If I were a real sportswriter who did real research, I’d probably find this feat to be an anomaly in the Super Bowl era, at least for teams with 2+ losses. But for now we’ll just assume I’m correct because it is a pretty cool stat and shows they got their business done against the teams they were supposed to beat. But 2011 will nonetheless be recalled as a soul-crusher of a season for Terrible Towel owners.
Team Highlight: Edging out the Patriots in week 8 at Heinz Field. New England has spent a lot of time beating up on Pittsburgh in recent years. They’d won six of the last seven matchups, but Pittsburgh finally showed up and did just about everything right in this game. Big Ben threw for 350, the defense was stingy and smart, and everything culminated in future Super Bowl-losing quarterback Tom Brady fumbling the ball out of his own end zone, resulting in a safety in the Patriots’ final possession. Pittsburgh suddenly found itself with a tidy four-game win streak after starting their schedule an uninspired 2-2.
Team Lowlight: It’s tempting to rebel and say “Well, you know, the two losses to the Ravens, cuz it gave them the division and then home field, because you know, they like hate them and stuff.” But let’s be real. There’s no way in hell that the bottoming-out moment wasn’t Tim Tebow’s final, divinely-inspired over-the-middle overtime dagger in Denver. The play that doubtlessly runs in horrific slow-motion at least twice a day in the mind of every Steelers fan in the known universe. One play to end them all. The Steelers are/were the better team, and they knew it and they let that happen. I wonder if a single person in the tri-state area went to church the following Sunday. Probably not.
Team MVP: Ben “The Ladies Man” Roethlisberger. Even if you hate him as a player or primarily think of him for his off-the-field douchebaggery, at least admit he’s tough. A bad foot forced him to hobble around in what looked like a cement shoe for most of the season, and he still topped 4,000 yards, 20 TDs, and was, as always, a bear for defensemen to bring down. (Side note: Was it just me or did he look fatter than ever this year? Maybe his flak jacket was stuffed with Twinkies for extra protection?) He helped turn Antonio Brown into a marquee receiver and held down an offense that was not always the prettiest, but one of the most efficient in the league in terms of scoring and clock management.
Needs: What they need is to keep Mike Wallace. The Steelers have cap space issues and it will be a serious blow if they can’t afford to re-sign him. After Antonio Brown, the WR depth chart literally gets old fast, and that 1-2 punch will allow their offense to step back and grind out games on the ground when they want to. Also, fix that offensive line already. It’s a recurring issue. Your quarterback is beat up and if he didn’t have the build of a Coke machine, the O-line would’ve had another 20+ sacks to their credit.
What’s in a Pittsburgh Steelers’ Fan’s Fridge: Steel Reserve. I’m taking the lazy way out and I’m sorry, but this is too convenient a pun not to use it. The Steelers fan has no choice but to get black-out drunk on 40s for the next six months and hang by a single thread of sanity ‘til week 1. They’ll be good again. Just don’t TEBOW think TEBOW about TEBOW Tebow. TEBOW.
Straight Cash Homey Meter:
Nope. The yellow and black don’t need him and the whole Moss mentality doesn’t fit anywhere in Pittsburgh’s zip code. I can’t even fathom him and Mike Tomlin wearing the same colored shirts. And James Harrison would probably punch his face off by week two of training camp anyway.
Entirely Too Early Prediction for 2012:
11-5 and they snag the division title, pending a healthy Roethlisberger and Wallace’s return. One (that means me) has the feeling that Baltimore will again be their biggest obstacle, and one (me again) might conclude that the Ravens had their big shot this year, fell short, and are now on the downslope of veteran elderliness that still eludes the Steelers—at least for another season or so.
Editor’s note: Stop back tomorrow when we cover the Browns. Yeah, I know. Awesome.