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Kovacevic: Steelers-Bears bigger than big

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 10:51 p.m.
Steelers ofensive line blocks against the Bengals Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers ofensive line blocks against the Bengals Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger avoids the rush against the Bengals on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger avoids the rush against the Bengals on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Says right here that Steelers vs. Bears on Sunday night will be the biggest, most momentous game played in Pittsburgh all year.

Don't believe it?

Here, let me give it a shot …

It'll be bigger than May 9, 2013, at Consol Energy Center, when the Penguins needed to take Game 5 of their Stanley Cup playoff series with the Islanders. If they hadn't done that and moved on, the aftermath could have ranged from a change at coach to a change in the two-star foundation to … well, whatever. Didn't happen.

And yes, it'll be even bigger than the ongoing proceedings across the parking lot, and that's with all due respect to some powerful, playoff-implication baseball being waged between the Pirates and Reds.

This is bigger.

And it's bigger not just because the Steelers, for all their troubles, remain undisputed king in this town.

It's bigger because of what could come from a loss.

Dispensing with the obvious, the Steelers would fall to 0-3, a record only three NFL teams have transformed into a playoff berth since 1990. The season would be over before it was a month old.

And that could represent just the kickoff to a fall and winter filled with embarrassment, not least of which would be flying halfway around the world to get steamrollered by Adrian Peterson, then having a bye week to ponder 0-4, then going into New York with a realistic shot at getting beaten by Geno Smith and the Jets … and it could all wind up with a loss in the Dec. 29 finale against the Browns, a team that essentially conceded its season in Week 2.


Hey, who could possibly think any of that's impossible after what's been seen to this point, especially if it starts to snowball?

For that matter, who could possibly think there wouldn't be meaningful, maybe seismic change if it did?

They're the Steelers. I know.

They never change. I know.

But here's the part everyone seems to forget: When Bill Cowher's 2006 team went 8-8 while hung over from the Super Bowl, there was a change, regardless of who initiated it. Even when the legendary Chuck Noll got stale — his final two teams went a combined 16-16 — there was a change, regardless of who initiated it.

Fact is, since the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers have had only seven losing seasons out of 41.


And the worst record in all that time was 5-11, in 1988.

Let's not kid anyone: That's where the stability starts. It's easy to stick with what works as long as, you know, it works.

And that's where the uncertainty of what we'd see following a loss to the Bears looks outright overwhelming. All of a sudden, the questions would expand from insane Jerricho Cotchery end-arounds to stuff larger in scope and higher up the ladder:

• How is it that the 2008-12 drafts under Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have only 11 current NFL starters to show for 42 players taken?

• Who was truly responsible for dumping Bruce Arians and replacing him with whatever derisive adjectives anyone still has left for Todd Haley and his work?

• On what plane of reality could — or should — any job be considered safe if the above questions continue to play out in the form of losses and more losses?

• Here's another that's maybe scarier still: What will become of the Steelers' franchise player?

Ben Roethlisberger's a competitor. He's also “frustrated” (his word) and “angry” (Tomlin's word) over the 0-2 start. Imagine how that'll deteriorate in correlation with even more losing.

Imagine where that leads.

Or don't.

Imagine, instead, how the Steelers might well turn it around against the Bears, then use it as a springboard to even their record at 2-2 in London, then pound the Jets the way everyone should, then gather more emotion from beating the rival Ravens, then swim through a five-game stretch that includes the Raiders, Bill, Lions and Browns.

And somewhere along the path, that old stability will be rediscovered, and a multiple-year recovery or even replacing prominent figures in the organization will be avoided.

I'm reminded of something striking that Lawrence Timmons told me in the opening week at Latrobe this summer when I asked about Tomlin looking more animated at the time: “Of course. There's a lot on him, too. He's the head coach. We all know this is a business, too. Everybody's job is at stake when you're losing, that's for sure. I want to do this a while. With him and with these coaches.”

Could be a big swing, huh?

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