The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t just losing anymore. They’ve seemingly lost their way.
Sunday’s 55-31 loss to New England provided more than a low point for a team that has proven expert at avoiding them for most of the past 15 years, it left a locker room of players whose fingers are dotted with Super Bowl rings shaken.
“It’s embarrassing for our organization to give up points like that,” safety Ryan Clark said.
The collapse was as complete as it was stunning. New England closed the game on a 31-7 run over the final 17 minutes, burying the Steelers with a barrage of passes from Tom Brady to receivers who had little trouble finding wide open spaces to run.
Pittsburgh joined the NFL in 1933, a span of 1,155 games and nearly 70,000 minutes.
The Steelers have never endured 60 quite like the nationally televised clinic put on by Brady.
By the time it was over, after Brady threw the last of his four touchdown passes, the Pittsburgh’s defense had set team records for points and yards allowed.
“I’m shocked because we didn’t play the way we know how to play,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
And while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger insists the best way to break out of a 2-6 slide that feels even worse is to “win,” there’s little evidence Pittsburgh is close to turning it around.
“If it was a quick fix, they would have fixed it,” former Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw said Monday.
Since losing to Green Bay in the 2011 Super Bowl, the Steelers have lost 10 games by seven points or more. Five of them have come this season.
“I think we’re all angry and disappointed,” said Roethlisberger, who passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns but also committed three turnovers against the Patriots. “That’s probably collectively what’s in this locker room.”
While the players offered no excuses, they also offered little answers. Perhaps because there are no easy ones.
Though coach Mike Tomlin promised to look over his team’s mistakes with a “fine tooth comb,” he’s not promising to blow up the depth chart and start over with eight games remaining.
“You re-evaluate everything,” Tomlin said. “You have to after a performance like that and we will. It doesn’t necessarily mean we will change or change for the sake of changing, but we will look at every aspect of what we are doing and who we are doing it with.”
Even if any real shake-up won’t come until the offseason. The Steelers have won six Lombardi Trophies by refusing to panic at the sight of adversity. They last started 2-6 in 2006, but recovered to finish 8-8 in Bill Cowher’s final season.
The circumstances then, however, were different. Roethlisberger’s offseason motorcycle accident, Jerome Bettis’ retirement and Cowher’s status created a fog that took two months to shake.
Pittsburgh’s second half set the stage for another successful five-year push under Tomlin that included a championship and another Super Bowl appearance.
This looks far different. A season-ending knee injury to center Maurkice Pouncey eight plays into the opener against Tennessee didn’t help.