Gene Collier: Steelers badly in need of a reality check


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LONDON -- So it matters not which continent serves as their staging area, because when the show is over and the doors to the losing locker room swing open, home or abroad, there are the Steelers.

Again.

Not even here, 4,000 air miles East of Awful, did anything really change for the better Sunday.

Would the New York Jets, the Steelers' next opponent, be interested in playing in, say, Uzbekistan?

Like that would alter the vibe.

"We've been saying the same things for the last three weeks," said Steelers guard David DeCastro, part of the offensive line that had Ben Roethlisberger routinely running for his life, this time from the Minnesota Vikings. "I'm kind of tired of it."

Yes, of course, the same things.

All that tommyrot about how close they are to competence, about how just a play here or a play here and things would be different, just a little bit better execution, just a tweak.

Seriously, keep it.

It was just too bad Roethlisberger led them to within 6 yards of tying the score in the final minute before his second turnover ended it, his sixth in two weeks, because any sense that the Steelers deserved something other than a full Vikings spanking, anything other than an 0-4 September, is purely a mirage.

And still they see it.

"We certainly have the guys in this room to play better than we're playing," said tight end Heath Miller, who happens to play better than any of them, which is no longer such an honor. "The only thing I know to do is keeping working, keep chipping away at what."

Work can't hurt, but this team needs a higher reckoning. This teams needs to embrace reality.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was dismissive of its critics all the way back in the spring, putting a derisive tag on just about any discussion of a drop-off in talent and, likely, in performance.

"That's March Talk," is what he said. "I'll see you at stadiums in the fall."

Did he mean the fall, or The Fall.

Tomlin wasn't and isn't the only one in the organization who'd found himself deluded by the aura of three Super Bowl appearances inside of six years.

General manager Kevin Colbert noted how he wasn't very fond of the word "need" in the draft, and that he didn't care much for the common description that the Steelers were a team in transition.

Transition would look almost delicious this morning, wouldn't it? Transition at least connotes a graduated change. This team has gone over a cliff, transition be damned.

"Obviously a disappointing loss," Tomlin said as the first coach of an 0-4 Steelers team since Bill Austin in 1968. "But who am I kidding? They all are."

This 34-27 dismissal by the Vikings was in multiple ways the worst yet. Whereas 0-3 had been analyzed as principally an offensive malfunction, Sunday at Wembley Stadium was a fairly complete defensive pratfall, with Dick LeBeau's crew allowing a 70-yard touchdown pass, a 60-yard touchdown run and a 51-yard pass that helped the Vikings break the game open early in the third quarter.

Anybody can be victimized by the great Adrian Peterson, who ripped off that 60-yarder on a 140-yard day, but the Steelers were just as demonstrably tortured by all manner of pedestrian offenders on an 0-3 team operating with its backup quarterback.

Peterson's second touchdown run, the 7-yarder that made it 27-17, was the sixth rushing touchdown allowed by the Steelers defense in four games. In 2010, the most recent Super Bowl season, only five rushing touchdowns were allowed all season.

Worse still, the defense worked another full shift without generating a single turnover. Even when LaMarr Woodley strip-sacked Matt Cassel, the football skittered across the Wembley lawn until it found a purple shirt to snuggle up to.

"The ball's gonna start bouncing our way," said Le'Veon Bell, the rookie who finally gave the Steelers some decent carries in his first NFL start, including the first two rushing touchdowns of their season. "When we go back and watch the film, there are a lot of things during the game that we mess up, and those might be the big plays. A turnover is a big play, especially when they get the ball inside the 30."

Roethlisberger's third interception in two weeks came at the Steelers 37, strictly speaking, and his third fumble in two weeks came at the Vikings 10 with time running out.

"We are going to focus on getting better," said Tomlin, as though things could get worse. "That's what's going to change the outcome of these football games. Those that don't, aren't going to be part of us. I have great patience. We'll continue to work as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail. Those that don't, they won't be a part of it, whoever it may be; it's just that simple."

That belief system has to start with the reality that this year's 0-4 is perhaps more illuminating of this club's talent than even last year's 8-8.

These Steelers should not delude themselves into believing they are anything but a bad football team right now. They have to own it, not just say they own it. They have to know what they are. They are the Legends of The Fall.

Steelers - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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