In a disappointing playoff exit, the defense gave up 538 yards of offense and 41 points while failing to register a single sack on the opposing quarterback. The opponent imposed their will, converting 63% on 3rd down and 2-for-2 on 4th down.
Prior to the game, the team's franchise quarterback had a spat with his coaching staff. Following the game, a star player complained about playing time and another All-Pro says he's contemplating retirement.
If you're asking if this team I'm talking about is the Pittsburgh Steelers, the answer is no. Actually, it's the infallible New England Patriots, who saw another chink added to their armor in a 41-33 loss in Super Bowl LII. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is regarded as an "evil genius". No doubt a future Hall of Fame inductee, I often point to Belichick's success as an unrealistic benchmark of the Steelers own head coach, Mike Tomlin. Just because Belichick often walks his team into, unopposed, into the AFC title game and/or Super Bowl, doesn't mean his teams don't fail.
You see, one of my biggest arguments with Tomlin critics each year is that he truly is a good coach. Sometimes he can even be a great coach. But like others, including Belichick, they aren't without their faults. Often is the argument against Tomlin is that he has talented teams which "fail". Failure is defined by doing anything less of winning a Lombardi trophy.
Yet, Belichick has failed to do the same multiple times. The Patriots have made the AFC Championship game seven straight seasons. That's a mind-boggling feat, which I also feel is skewed due to their lack of competition in their own division, but nonetheless, the Patriots deserve some credit for getting to the title game.
However, my gripe with fans who want Tomlin fired by comparing him to possibly the only coach who is "better" is that Belichick's Patriots lost three of those AFC Championship games, and then went on to two of the four Super Bowls they played in.
If failure truly is defined by not winning the big one, then there are a lot of losers throughout the years; perhaps to a degree where some of us who can accept a lower bar to define success (without being called "apologists"). In their playoff loss to the Jaguars, the Steelers gave up a boatload of yards and points to a "no name" quarterback. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots did the same with Eagles backup QB Nick Foles passing for 373 yards and three touchdowns, en route to being named the game's MVP.
Regardless, I doubt that Patriots fans are calling for Belichick's head, nor the firing of his staff (who may both move on to head coaching positions anyway). I point this out because the lunacy that is the "fire Tomlin" crowd should be asking for Belichick's pink slip as well. After all, failing is failing... especially when you take an undefeated team to the Super Bowl to lose as well... and could you imagine if Tomlin and his staff attempted the ill-fated lateral on the last kick return? (I'm pretty sure the city of Pittsburgh would be burnt to a crisp!)
Then there's the off-field drama. Mike Tomlin "can't control his team" or he's "a glorified cheerleader".
I'd argue Belichick's house is no cleaner. He has the circus act that is Rob Gronkowski to handle. He's even had a murderer on his roster. But not to belabor those points, who wasn't pointing fingers at Tomlin and company for Ben Roethlisberger talking retirement and James Harrison complaining about playing time?
Now Belichick finds himself the subject of Malcolm Butler's benching, as the star corner claimed postgame the Patriots "gave up on me". Gronk also added fuel to the fire:
I’m definitely gonna look at my future. We’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.
If that sounds familiar, it should: Gronkowski is treading the same waters Big Ben did a season earlier in contemplating a return. That makes me contemplate if fans and critics alike will pick his comments apart like they did Roethlisberger's? And will they try to place part of that blame on Belichick as others did Tomlin and to a further extent, Todd Haley?
Then there's the debate of how long 40-year-old QB Tom Brady will be able to maintain his high level of play. A report broke on the eve of the postseason stating Belichick was hesitant to move backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and that Brady didn't like the idea of having to look over his shoulder.
For the first time in a long time, it looks like the unstoppable machine that was the Patriots finally needs some retooling. With no more games left, you can bet that Brady and Gronk's futures, Butler's comments, and a stinging defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles are going to dominate headlines this offseason.
For once, the Steelers aren't the only team with so much off-field drama.
And as evidenced by the fallout of Super Bowl LII, they certainly don't own the crown for the most!