Tim Benz: Be smart, Steelers fans — don't overreact to Patriots' loss
“The Patriots defense can be had!”
“Take away Gronk, and New England's offense stinks!”
“Brady's Achilles is killing him. He's not the same!”
Pittsburgh sports talk radio was filled with sentiments like these from callers — and some hosts — Tuesday.
Yes, the Patriots lost 27-20 to Miami on Monday. So obviously, in advance of their trip to Pittsburgh on Sunday, we should assume that loss was the true indication of who the Patriots really are as a team.
Similarly, we should assume their eight-game winning streak before Monday was nothing but a two-month string of fortunate, fluke results.
As I'm sure the past 16 years of AFC superiority were as well.
As a fan base, don't we in Pittsburgh know better by now?
Tom Brady and the Patriots repeatedly have pulled the football away from the Steelers in Lucy-vs.-Charlie Brown type fashion for a decade-and-a-half. Brady is 10-2 against the Steelers as a starter.
After seeing that happen so often, shouldn't one point be clear?
If the Steelers ever are going to beat a Brady-led Patriots team again, it's because they actually played well, not because the Pats are flawed.
Since 2001, many local football fans and talking heads have wasted a lot of oxygen trying to minimize why New England has been good over the years:
“Bill Belichick is nothing without Tom Brady. Tom Brady is nothing without Bill Belichick. Spygate! Deflategate! Faulty headsets! Wrong hashmark! Bell was hurt. Big Ben was hurt. The Bus played hurt. Anthony Smith shoulda just shut up! And Plex dropped the ball in the end zone in 2004. ”
C'mon. The Patriots have been great over the years. They are again this year.
That doesn't mean the Steelers can't win Sunday. At the time of this writing, the Steelers are a 3-point underdog according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
But if the Steelers are to pull the upset, it won't be because the Patriots were exposed as a fraud. It'll be because the Steelers finally established themselves as a better outfit.
The two times the Steelers beat Brady — in October 2011 and October 2004 — the Steelers were by far the more impressive team.
The Steelers dominated the clock, owning possession for more than 39 and 42 minutes.
Each of those New England teams proved to be better in the end, though, reaching the Super Bowl both seasons. So in neither case were the Steelers' wins a result of plucking off a Patriots team that was overrated.
In both instances, good Steelers teams played a spectacular 60 minutes against good Patriots clubs.
That'll have to happen again this Sunday.
Mike Tomlin subscribed to that belief at his news conference Tuesday.
“We've got to be good. We've got to play to our abilities,” Tomlin said. “It's less about what they do and more about the quality of our work.”
Even in the wake of New England's ugly loss 12 hours earlier, Tomlin went so far as to call Brady “awesome” at changing the pace of games. He referred to New England's defense as “dominant” and “elite” in critical, “gotta have it moments.” He even called their special teams “exceptional.”
That's high praise for a team that just went 0 for 11 on third downs offensively. With Rob Gronkowski suspended and receiver Chris Hogan just back from injury, though, Tomlin suggested to take that statistic with a mountain of salt.
“I'm sure it was a combination of all of (that),” Tomlin agreed.
But Tomlin did allow there were potentially some things the Steelers could glean from studying the tape of the Dolphins victory, specifically how Miami attacked New England's defense.
“Anytime you are playing them, you better study AFC East people,” Tomlin said. “That's just something you do in the NFL when you are playing outside of your own division. You look at how people who know them, play them.
“So if there is something (to study) in Monday night's game, it's for those reasons. Not because of the result of the game.”
Given New England's dominance of the AFC East since the start of the 2000s, some may disagree with that notion. But I understand Tomlin's premise.
I also understand why many Steelers fans finally feel they are due for another victory against their arch nemesis. What I don't understand are the attempts to suggest it'll happen because the Patriots are a lesser version of what they used to be, rather than the belief that the Steelers are a better version of what they have been.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.