The New England Patriots -- how appropriate -- put an exclamation point on the collapse of the Steelers and made the decline and fall of this once highly successful franchise official.
The Steelers are done. For this season and in all likelihood for at least several more after this one.
The Patriots -- the only AFC team that got the better of them this century -- put a good, old-fashioned butt kicking on the Steelers today in Foxboro, Mass. All the elements of the Steelers collapse, which now totals 11 losses in the past 15 games, were on display in this 55-31 manhandling. Most notable and most obvious was the sad state of the team’s once-proud defense, which for so long had been the calling card of the franchise.
It is rare when 31 points doesn't win an NFL game. It is even more rare when it fails to do so by 25 points.
The Patriots, who had not scored more than 30 all season, almost doubled that total as they put up more points than any Steelers opponent in the long history of the franchise. They rambled for a ridiculous 610 yards. Although Tom Brady is, at 36, believed to be in the downside, if not the twilight, of his career, that was not noticeable as he threw for 432 yards and four touchdown while posting a near-perfect passer rating of 151.8.
This is the same Brady who threw for 116 yards against Miami last week. The same Brady who hadn't had a passer rating over 75 since September.
The Steelers made the Patriots and Brady look like the juggernauts they once were.
Of course, the Steelers made the Oakland Raiders look like winners last week, 21-18. Those same Raiders today lost to Philadelphia, which was 3-5, 49-20.
There is blame all around. It starts with general manager Kevin Colbert, who not only had drafted poorly but, along with owner Art Rooney, has overseen a management of the salary cap in which money was bestowed on players who did not deserve it. Colbert and Rooney badly misjudged the Steelers Super Bowl window of opportunity.
As recent history tells us, that window closed some time ago. Colbert and Rooney weren't the only ones who misread the situation but that does not obscure their mistakes.
Next in line is Mike Tomlin, who once coached as well as he talked, but not any more. Players win and players lose. But the buck stops with the coach and Tomlin’s failure to have his players ready for teams like Oakland and Minnesota this year is unacceptable.
It moves down to the sainted defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a man once revered by his player like few in the game. When a defense is picked apart by a quarterback who had been struggling, it reflects on the players and the coaches. Perhaps LeBeau’s schemes are as old and tired as his players.
Some, as they always do, will blame offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but not after this game, not after his offense put up 31 points.
The main culprits are the players, who simply are not good enough. That’s particularly true on the defensive side.
The Steelers finished by losing five of seven last year and they've opened this year by losing six of eight. That’s an ugly trend that does not bode well for the future.
There is no reason to believe the team will get better. The schedule in the second half gets lighter and five of the eight games are at home. But for a team that has put the only win on the Minnesota Vikings record, there are no easy games.
It probably would be best that the Steelers finish poorly both in terms of a securing better draft status and to drive home clearly to the people in charge that this is not a good football team. Sometimes the people who pick the talent are the last to know.
Such a finish might make easier the never-easy task of cutting ties with players who have made immense contributions to Super Bowl champions. But those decision will have to be made. They won’t make the Steelers better but they might speed the recovery.