PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Despite everything that happened at Heinz Field Sunday evening, one important word should stick with everyone: Confidence.
After all, the Patriots, who 'won' the game, seemed extremely confident by all accounts.
Then again, if every close call over the past decade and a half had gone your way – especially when the referees have time to confer with the league office via replay booth or tablet/headset – it'd be easy to be confident.
Confidence should not be in short order in Pittsburgh though, neither amongst the Steelers nor their fans. The Steelers spent the better part of Sunday's game proving themselves the better and certainly more complete team.
How does the better, more complete, team lose a key game to a conference rival at home?
Aside from some extremely significant league intervention, let us count the ways:
- The league's Most Valuable Player was lost due to injury early in the 2nd
- The league's prettiest quarterback scored his lone 1st half touchdown only because the drive it was scored on was kept alive via penalty.
- The other two New England touchdown drives involved 5 catches by Rob Gronkowski for 101 yards. In fact, if you remove Gronkowski's targets, Tom Brady was just 13-of-22 for 130 yards on the day.
- The Steelers best cornerback missed another game with a fracture in his leg, and will be back should these two teams meet again in January.
Let's start with the elephant-sized tight end in the room and address Gronkowski, because it's clearly the biggest non-officiating issue facing the Steelers if given an opportunity to play the Patriots again.
Gronkowski can't be eliminated altogether, especially when the league refuses to suspend players who blatantly attack defenseless opponents with elbows to the back of the head for more than a single game. He can be limited, though. Keith Butler just can't be allowed to try and do it with single coverage again.
And here's where the aforementioned cornerback comes in.
Joe Haden is one of the best press-man corners in the game, in large part, because he's physical at the line and it disrupts the timing of a quarterback and receiver. Against a 6'6" 265 lb. mammoth of a man, does that sound like something we could interest you in?
Regardless of whether it's Haden, or Mike Hilton – who broke up several passes Sunday, including at least one targeted for Gronkowski in the end zone – someone will have to double up on the tight end to help Sean Davis, who was 5 inches and 62 pounds lacking in attempting to keep up with Baby Huey.
Now we've got a team that lost by 3 points only because of a misinterpreted rule and & replay review and nonsensical throw into triple coverage on a 'trick' play that didn't trick anyone. And we're adding back into the mix the best wide receiver to ever play the game not named Rice or Moss.
If that doesn't imbue you with confidence, check the voices in your head to make sure it's not the Patriots' radio broadcast – not that that has ever been known to happen – and get back to me.
The Steelers were without Antonio Brown, Ryan Shazier, and Joe Haden, and still beat the defending Super Bowl Champions, and their own personal boogeymen, if not for a league official in New York determining that a man who crossed the plane of the goal line with control of the football had not, in fact, scored a touchdown.
It took the absence of the league's MVP, the absence of the team's best linebacker and best corner, a dropped interception, a foolish attempt at a trick play, and the failure to double-cover the league's most physical pass catcher – oh, and the worst replay review since the Patriots were gifted a trip to the AFC Championship 16 years ago (What a coincidence these things always seem to go New England's way, huh?) – and the Steelers were STILL the better team.
They'll remain the better team, whether they play the Patriots again in Foxborough, on the North Side, or east Djibouti, that much is obvious. And if the Steelers get another opportunity to beat the boogeyman – without any help from Al Riveron, or any other league officials – they'll win.
Of that much, I'm confident. And you should be, too.
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