Kovacevic: Steelers' disgraceful effort demands action
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Read those three words with appropriate depth and drama, and it's hard not to hear them in the voice of John Facenda, NFL Films' legendary “Voice of God” narrator. Just as it's hard not to recall the many great men who have worn the black and gold, from Mean Joe Greene onward. Just as it's hard not to think of this franchise, built on Myron Cope, a little yellow towel, a lot of DEE-fense and a fan base without parallel, as our city's greatest institution, our face to the rest of the world.
That's what came to mind when looking at that score lingering on Gillette Stadium's big board long into the night.
Patriots 55, Steelers 31.
That's what came to mind when I saw Dan Rooney, head hung, merely pacing through the visitors' locker room, eschewing the traditional win-or-lose shaking of every player's hand.
And, yeah, I'll say it: That's what should come to mind when the Rooneys do due diligence and evaluate all that's gone so wrong in this season that's now 2-6 and careening toward something far worse.
This was disgraceful.
But it can be undone.
People roll their eyes anymore upon any mention of the Steelers Way, but not me.
Call me sappy or naïve or whatever, but I'm born and raised in the “town with the great football team.” I get it. I felt it was special even as a child in watching those four Super Bowl champs. And when success was sustained through four decades, three coaches and countless players, it became clear not just to us but to the sporting world that there really was a Steelers Way. And that it was the right way.
Part of that way, of course, is sticking by their guys. And I can respect that. It's served them brilliantly to have Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and, yes, Mike Tomlin, too, until these past couple seasons.
But the true Steelers Way, as people who have played a real part in it will attest in impassioned tones, is winning.
This team doesn't have it.
This team doesn't have the talent, the toughness or the togetherness needed to win.
It's a terrible team, embarrassing in preparation and execution and now even effort.
Tomlin routinely dismisses questions about effort, but this was his reply Sunday when I asked if the effort was there near the end of this game, when a 24-24 tie turned into a tragicomedy: “Not good enough. Just wasn't. We're going to comb through this with a fine-toothed comb, as we should. And those people that were lacking effort won't be playing. It's just that simple.”
Don't get me wrong: A lack of effort is appalling. It's disrespectful to all that's described above. But it's not as if trying harder will solve it.
You've seen it. This team's a wreck, from Tomlin and Kevin Colbert on down.
Certainly not Tomlin. Above all, he's failed to have his team ready for games, one of the principal tenets of being a head coach. And it's not just that they've been outscored in the first quarter 61-19. It's that they've looked so bad. As if they don't even have walk-throughs.
Certainly not his coordinators. Todd Haley's poor playcalling found its defensive match Sunday with Dick LeBeau inexplicably abandoning his own formula for beating Tom Brady by backing his secondary off the line and just letting Rob Gronkowski run wild.
Certainly not their two best players. Ben Roethlisberger's opening series saw him get sacked, lose a fumble and lay up an easy pick. On the other side, Troy Polamalu endured a career's worth of crushing errors in the first half.
Certainly not anyone else.
There's little to analyze here, even less to discuss.
Yeah, Brett Keisel sounded all motivational: “We've got to pick ourselves off the ground and show what we're made of.”
Roethlisberger sounded genuinely spirited when I asked why he was still on the field in the waning minutes with a 24-point deficit: “They would have had to drag me off. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to stay out there and fight to the end.”
Ryan Clark, victimized like a rookie all day long, sounded genuinely down: “It's embarrassing. And it's not just to us as players, but to the franchise and everybody involved with it.”
What Tomlin says doesn't matter much, either. When he says he's “angry,” through gritted teeth, or “You re-evaluate everything after a performance like that,” we can only wait to see if he's serious or if he'll just cut another JV punter.
The same should apply to the Rooneys' evaluations and efforts toward restoring the real Pittsburgh Steelers.