Bob Smizik: Panic over Steelers premature, but ...
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When the Steelers lost two of their first three games, including one to division rival Cincinnati, media alarmists and overly pessimistic fans preached that the season was near ruin and that the team might not get the opportunity to defend its Super Bowl title. Considering the season was but three weeks old, it was a panicky overreaction and was made to look all the more so Sunday, when, with the Steelers off, the Bengals lost to New England. Instead of trailing the Bengals by what amounted to three games, the deficit was down to two and hardly insurmountable with 13 remaining.
While it's also true the Baltimore Ravens remain undefeated in the AFC North and are coming off an impressive victory against San Diego, the season is young. The fact the Steelers have two games remaining with the Ravens tends to downplay that Baltimore advantage.
Let's not forget, the Steelers were 7-5 and ruled out by almost everyone last season before winning their next eight games, the last of which was the Super Bowl. This is not a team that surrenders easily. Let's also not forget 19 starters returned from that Super Bowl team.
So dump the gloom -- at least until 11:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Steelers' game with San Diego, which is scheduled to begin at 8:15, should be over by then, and, if another loss is added to their total, well, count me among the panicky over-reactors. Except by then, we'll be cold-hearted realists.
It won't just be the third loss that will be so damaging to the Steelers. Three defeats don't rule a team out of the playoffs. It will be the perception and the reality of those losses that will hurt. Any mystique about the Steelers will disappear. More than that, the team itself will start to doubt. That doesn't mean they'll fold up, it means they'll play with less confidence.
Add the fact the Steelers play at Atlanta and against Denver in the following four weeks, and it means a loss to the Chargers won't just leave them with their backs against the wall, their shoulder blades will be digging into the plaster.
Teams that open 1-3 aren't Super Bowl contenders. They might not be playoff contenders. Which means games don't get much bigger than this one.
Which also means the Steelers will win this one. Here's why:
There's only one word to describe the play this season of Ben Roethlisberger: Kordellian.
In two games, he has completed 49 percent of his passes for less than 5 yards an attempt, no touchdowns and five interceptions. His passer rating is 34.3. Those are numbers that reek of Kordell Stewart and have uninformed fans calling for Charlie Batch, who, in a start while Roethlisberger was recovering from an appendectomy, completed 60 percent of his passes for more than 8 yards an attempt, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a passer rating of 126.5. There's only one word to describe those numbers: Roethlisbergerian.
There is no reason to believe Roethlisberger won't return to his form of last season when he came of age as a quarterback with a brilliant three-game playoff run-up to the Super Bowl. No longer was there any suggestion that his success was more attributable to the team around him than his own skills.
As is well-known, he has had a rough time of it since winning the Super Bowl. The off week should be just what he needed to regain any strength he might have lost with the appendectomy and work out the kinks in his game. He's ready again to excel.
"As much as people might not believe it, I think we've been playing pretty well offensively," he said. "There have been a couple of mistakes that have really hurt. But, overall, we're just a hair off on offense. We're almost clicking and, when we do start to click and those wheels start turning, I think we can be pretty good, pretty dangerous. I don't think we're as far off as people think."
The other major reason the Steelers will win also has to do with a quarterback -- San Diego's.
Philip Rivers is in his third season in the NFL but his first as a starter. Before this year, he played in four games, none as a starter, and threw 30 passes. Players with that level of experience, regardless of their talent, don't beat defenses like the Steelers.
Rivers has led the Chargers to wins this season against Tennessee and Oakland, two of the worst teams in the NFL and both without a win. Against Baltimore, he led a touchdown drive on the first possession of the game and two short field-goal drives in the second quarter. The Chargers did not put up a point in the second half in losing, 16-13.
The Steelers' defense may or may not be as good as Baltimore's, but it's very good.
Rivers will be throttled, Roethlisberger will not.
The dream of a repeat Super Bowl win will live for another day.
There is no reason to believe Roethlisberger won't return to his form of last season when he came of age as a quarterback with a brilliant three-game playoff run-up to the Super Bowl.
First Published October 5, 2006 12:00 am