Kovacevic: Steelers should be tired ... of losing
LONDON — When the Steelers' charter bus rolls into Wembley Stadium on Sunday — and no, it won't be a double-decker, unless someone's eager to test that second level — they'll be welcomed into the world's most famous sporting facility by multiple 15-foot banners bearing Antonio Brown's likeness.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” A.B. was saying over the weekend. “That's humbling.”
To the credit of him and his teammates, all concerned have conducted themselves impeccably here, from the opening news conference to Ike Taylor's playfulness with the British media to their clear appreciation for the tens of thousands jamming London's famed Regent Street, where Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and others were introduced on a stage surrounded for blocks with Terrible Towels.
Organizers said they were stunned by the turnout, and they weren't alone.
“I didn't expect this, but maybe I should have,” said George Abbey, a North Side native who was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army and has lived there the past 20 years. “For those of us here who still love Pittsburgh, still love the Steelers, it's just incredible to have them here.”
It's been easy to see from some of the Steelers that they've been moved by stories like George's, too.
If you want to talk humbling …
Humbling is flying 3,671 miles only to be shipped back home empty-handed. Don't underestimate that. I covered the Penguins' season-opening trip to Tokyo in 2000, and when they lost the first of two games there to the Predators, the second took on an urgency that surprised even some of the participants.
Humbling is stepping into a 92,000-seat stadium — yes, the game's sold out — that's considered hallowed ground by the locals and, possibly, doing something embarrassing such as … oh, that first half against the Bears.
Humbling is being beaten by an opponent like these equally winless Vikings, who learned upon landing here they'll also be without quarterback Christian Ponder.
Humbling is losing to Matt Cassel.
Humbling is 0-4.
Humiliating is more like it.
“Well,” Brett Keisel said to that topic, “we feel like we need to win. That's been our focus. We just need to get one win. We went to work this week just hoping that win is here in London.”
It'll take more than hope.
The first takeaway of the year wouldn't hurt, if only for the psychological kick. Most of the preparation this week has been on stopping Adrian Peterson. That's as it should be. But any defense that does as much blitzing and stunting as Dick LeBeau did against the Bears and still doesn't lay a single digit on the football … something's seriously amiss. It needs to change.
Anything remotely resembling a running game wouldn't hurt, either. Le'Veon Bell will make his debut, and I'm hearing he'll play quite a bit, but it's asking too much of a fledgling second-rounder to get that done alone. The offensive line needs to find its first real push.
And hey, how about an elite effort from the team's best player?
Sure, the only thing more antiquated on this island than Todd Haley's playbook is Stonehenge, but that shouldn't absolve Roethlisberger of an 81.2 QB rating, 10 sacks, four picks and four fumbles, a few of which just might have been his fault.
See, this is why I viewed that Chicago game as so pivotal. The whole dynamic changed. Had the Steelers flown over here at 1-2 with even a sliver of momentum, they could beat a Minnesota team they really should beat, then use the bye week to reset their sights on a seriously mediocre AFC North.
Alas, here they are.
I've seen one thing from the Steelers this weekend I've really liked and one I really didn't.
The positive has been a business-like approach. London is one of the world's truly great cities, with enough to keep even a casual tourist immersed for a month. But to a man, the Steelers have insisted they're doing almost none of that.
That undoubtedly trickles down from Tomlin, who flatly stated upon arrival, “I'm here to work.”
The negative one, which also trickles down from Tomlin, is that the Steelers would have had a far better chance of getting that work done had they arrived earlier than Friday morning. The Vikings arrived Tuesday, as will the 49ers and Jaguars later this season. That's because they understand it takes even a manic frequent flyer 2-4 days to full acclimate after an overseas flight.
Tomlin's explanation has been that he wanted the weekly preparation to be close to normal for a road game. He reiterated Friday: “We were searching for, and found, normalcy.”
This isn't normal, and it doesn't take a cartography major to catch on to that.
There'll be nothing normal about the flight back if Tomlin's wrong. Just some excess humility crammed into the cargo bay.