Kovacevic: Steelers' solution: Shut up, keep it up
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Oh, to have been a bug-equipped fly on the wall at the Steelers' South Side headquarters the past few days. To have heard Mike Tomlin peeling the paint off the place. To have heard the paid athletes lamenting the loss of pingpong privileges and whatever other frivolity might have stolen so much as a second from focusing on 0-4.
Then again, maybe we did hear it all.
Or at least its echo.
Because those same Steelers, the ones who finally competed anywhere close to their commensurate talent in checking down the Jets, 19-6, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium … those Steelers very clearly benefited from the coach's very big boot administered all through the bye week.
Which says a lot, both good and bad. The good was obvious. And I do mean obvious.
“Obviously,” Tomlin opened his postgame news conference, “that's a significant win for us.”
“It's good to get a win,” Ben Roethlisberger opened his news conference, “obviously.”
Obviously, then, the bad was just as glaringly obvious: This team was underachieving.
Don't talk about a lack of talent when Roethlisberger is 23 of 30 for 264 yards and a TD bomb, when Antonio Brown is freaking out the opponent with every touch, when Heath Miller is regaining full health, when Le'Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders are finding some daylight, when Lawrence Timmons is slamming bodies from sideline to sideline, when Jarvis Jones is sniffing out the QB on par with his promise, when LaMarr Woodley is back to collecting sacks, when Cam Heyward is coming of age or when Troy Polamalu is going aerial to launch some receiver into the next century. And that's to say nothing of Kelvin Beachum stepping up at left tackle to help the much-maligned O-line find it's first real solidity against, of all entities, the NFL's No 2-ranked defense. Ramon Foster was right to call it “our best, man, our best.”
These aren't the Jaguars. The Steelers never have been, as a dejected Roethlisberger labeled them in London, “the worst team in the NFL.” The performance stunk, but the talent's been there.
So has the coach, at least in essence.
The other negative exposed Sunday was that Tomlin needed to take all these extra measures — a fiery speech upon returning from London, the elimination of distractions and just the general bad-dude disposition that once was his trademark — a whole lot sooner.
When asked if his message post-London was more impassioned than usual, Tomlin retorted with a question of his own: “Do you think the circumstances dictated it?”
I don't know about you, but I kind of thought the circumstances dictated it at, oh, halftime against Tennessee.
Nonetheless, as Heyward put it, “This is a start.”
Moreover, the upbeat vibe came with an unmistakable genuineness. Ridiculous or not, they're trying to envision a playoff after an 0-4 start.
“We believe it,” Brett Keisel said. “Obviously, it wasn't the start we wanted. But the men in this locker room believe there's a chance that something great can come of this if we all work toward it.”
I like that. I didn't even mind Sanders' flip on his 55-yard touchdown. “That was a statement,” he said, and I can see that. A little swag had returned. No harm, no flag.
But they all need to move in a common direction. And to that end, it's probably most imperative that they simply shut up and keep progressing.
That means no more locker-room silliness or dog-walking lawsuits or Roethlisberger-Todd Haley feuding, a very real issue that Ben pushed to bury Sunday by lavishing his coordinator with praise.
And, yeah, that means no more of Ryan Clark's mouth.
There he was again after this game, answering at length a question about his recent criticism of Roethlisberger — he could have declined comment, having already addressed it in Pittsburgh — and going on about how local media “distorted” his words and what he really meant to criticize was the lack of support around Ben.
“I think it's funny,” Clark said, “that y'all try to make it a controversy.”
Try, indeed. Here's what Clark told the national network ESPN that he hopes will employ him full-time someday: “We have to tone Ben down in a sense and say, ‘Hey, right now, we're not a good enough football team for you to try to extend plays, for us to take sacks, for us to have turnovers.'”
Because, see, it's the people around Ben who “extend plays” and “take sacks.”
Clark needs to zip it.
All of the Steelers need to stick to business and square up against the epic task at hand. And if they somehow rise up to it ... hey, fleeces and shuffleboard for everyone!