Overreactions from Steelers Nation: Expectations against Kansas City

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation”. This week, I’m trying to figure out if Steelers fans even watch the games!

I’ve done a lot of these overreaction articles during the course of the 2021 season, but I don’t believe I was truly prepared for what followed the Steelers 42-21 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Wild Card round.

I’ve seen some truly deplorable comments following this game. I’m trying to rationalize with it… yes, it was mostly one-sided (beyond the opening moments of the second quarter). Yes, the Steelers offense was abysmal. Yes, the defense fell apart.

But another part of me just wants to ask the Steelers faithful, “What the hell did you expect?”

Let’s pull back the curtain some. For starters, I’m not advocating that I should feel good about a solid ass whooping. At the same time, a lot of the same people who are acting like toddlers in the day after Pittsburgh’s playoff exit were acting like this prior to it too.

You know the routine.

  • Ben’s arm is done.
  • Fire Mike Tomlin. Fire Keith Butler. Fire Matt Canada.
  • Hell, I even saw someone suggest the Rooney’s sell the Steelers.

Is that not a tad of overreaction? Absolutely more than just a tad…

A segment of the Steelers fan base is spoiled rotten to the core. Pittsburgh hasn’t been in the bottom of their division since 1988, dating back to the days of Chuck Noll. They haven’t had a losing season since 2003. Neither Ben Roethlisberger or Mike Tomlin have had a losing season.

Yet, that’s never enough.

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I get it. Super Bowls are the goal. Each and every season you want your team to be the very best. Unfortunately, that finish is only reserved for one franchise to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the very end.

For everyone else, they’re losers. Some are more losers than others. In fact, 75% of the league won’t win a playoff game this season. (Or any season.)

The odds are always against you, but there’s some fantasy land ideas out there where people think just because a recently hot team is winning, that it will always go that way.

I get the sense that some want to be the most recent champions, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers… who waited since 2002 to be called World Champions again in 2020. But 2002 is the only other time Tampa has been able to lay such claim: and it took a lot of time, change, and miserable seasons to get there.

The Bucs hadn’t even been in the playoffs since 2007.

Then I see Steelers fans who complain that this year’s team didn’t “deserve” to be in the playoffs.

Talk about an Oh brother! moment straight out of Charlie Brown.

Just how disappointing is any given season? I’ve heard things about the “standard” being lowered in Pittsburgh, yet I fail to see other teams who have had more Super Bowl wins than they have. In fact, only one recent dynasty rivals them in wins and appearances: the New England Patriots. (And seeing as they play in the same conference, that fact has hindered the Steelers chances of winning more championships or making more Super Bowl appearances too, even going back to Bill Cowher’s era.)

All summer I was told how New England was turning things around, only to get blown out by the Buffalo Bills 47-17. That’s more points than the Steelers gave up (and technically fewer than they scored too) with the infallible Bill Belichick at the helm.

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Besides those Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals went on a tremendous season-ending collapse, falling from the top of their conference to hitting the road to get thrashed 34-11 by the Los Angeles Rams. The Cardinals are a poster child of tons of cap space and a top overall pick at QB, but didn’t fare any better. (And look at how long their franchise has waited to be back into a winning position.)

The Philadelphia Eagles also suffered a bad beat by the defending champion Bucs too.

I’m sure some of these teams feel they’re turning the corner, while Steelers fans feel their team is headed for doom. But on the onset of this 2021 season, Pittsburgh was being picked to finish at or near the bottom of their division. Analysts had both the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens as AFC North favorites: each are teams that were preseason Super Bowl picks who were swept by the lowly Steelers.

The Steelers calendar wasn’t going to be of help either, with the toughest strength of schedule in the entire league. They lost too players to free agency, injuries, and retirement, and somehow, when the dust settled, that same Steelers team somehow found a way to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s waning career by another game.

I would think the end of the season, with the unexpected playoff appearance, might whet the appetite of Steelers Nation. But alas, I was wrong.

The bloodthirsty group had higher expectations, but failed to understand how the Steelers already overcame adversity with more of it staring them dead in the face at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday.

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One of pro football’s most dynamic quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes, was primed to take center stage against the old guard that is Roethlisberger. The former’s team, had played in the last three AFC Championship game in a row, winning the last two – good for two-straight Super Bowl appearances, winning one of them.

Maybe the Steelers could pull of a David versus Goliath matchup, but the odds were never really in their favor. Their 39-year-old passer was behind an offensive line that was already considered bad when the season started. It went from bad to worse, as the left guard position ceded to five different players, with undrafted John Leglue starting next to the also undrafted J.C. Hassenhauer at center.

There could be a chance, after all, the Steelers defense somehow forced two turnovers and scored, giving Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead as the second quarter was under way.

All that did, however, was wake the sleeping bear within Kansas City, who would score six consecutive touchdowns in the rout.

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Lost in those sea of details is that nearly the entire Steelers 2021 draft class chipped in during this unlikely season. Those who groaned about not taking an offensive linemen in the first or second round of the NFL Draft failed to realize that without Najee Harris or Pat Freiermuth, the 2021 Steelers would’ve been a worse team with a likely losing record.

The team had no cap space, lost bonafide starters such as Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Vance McDonald, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, Vince Williams, and Mike Hilton, plus Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt within the season, and others such as Watt, and Joe Haden for extended time.

And still swept the Browns, swept the Ravens, and made the postseason.

For those talking about a total rebuild, you just saw it. Amidst this improbable roster turnover, the Steelers still overcame. That’s because of the ownership, the front office, and the coaching staff: not in spite of it.

Like Tampa, other franchises are waiting for their opportunity to turn the corner. The Jets, the Jaguars, the Giants, and several others have been languishing for years, sometimes decades, for their turn to come.

And yet, the Steelers shouldn’t have even been here, but they were. And some fans are actually upset about that…

Depending on your reasons, perhaps, these fans maybe shouldn’t be Steelers fan then.

For the rest of us who understood what we witnessed this season, we are grateful for Ben Roethlisberger’s last ride, and excited about what’s yet to come. Quarterbacks may not grow on trees, but the foundation on defense, an exciting set of skill position players on offense, and salary cap space with new additions in the draft all point toward that Steelers “standard” continuing into the future.

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