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Starkey: Steelers fans spoiled rotten

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 10:48 p.m.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on the sideline 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Sanity check: Am I the only person in town who thinks Mike Tomlin is doing a decent job this season?

Am I the only one who sees the Steelers still controlling their playoff fate as an accomplishment rather than an embarrassment?

Immersed in the world of sports-talk radio, I am exposed to dangerous levels of hysteria, cynicism and utter nonsense. And every once in a while it becomes clear: A large chunk of this fan base is spoiled rotten.

Just this week, we fielded calls demanding Tomlin be fired. The season's over, time to rebuild, LeBeau's too old, and Cowher would never let his players get away with this.

A frequently heard argument is that Tomlin has always “played down to the competition.”

Actually, Tomlin has won 75 percent of his games (33-11) against losing teams. He went 16-0 against them the past two seasons.

This season, like in 2009, Tomlin has lost to a lot of bad teams. And like three years ago, the Steelers aren't all that hot themselves, mostly because they have been decimated by injuries. In his other four years, Tomlin was 28-3 against losing teams.

Am I the crazy one here?

Perhaps a round of intense hypnotherapy will help.

You go first: Follow the pendulum until your eyes grow heavy … heavy … heavy. OK, we're back in Latrobe. It's Aug. 1, and we are peering into a crystal ball (don't mind the crack; Rashard Mendenhall fumbled it on the way over).

I will tell you what I see. You will then tell me where the Steelers will be after 13 games.

I see …

• Ben Roethlisberger missing 3 12 games, including both against Baltimore.

• Troy Polamalu missing 9 34 games.

• James Harrison missing three games and being a shell of himself for several more.

• LaMarr Woodley missing three full games and most of two others.

• Antonio Brown missing 3 12 games.

• What's this … Maurkice Pouncey playing guard? Will Allen starting seven games? Kelvin Beachum? Jonathan Dwyer? Charlie Batch calling signals in Baltimore? Who is Josh Victorian? Plaxico's back?

I shake the crystal ball like a snow globe. Now I see …

• Willie Colon missing 2 12 games.

• Ike Taylor missing two.

• Marcus Gilbert missing eight.

• David DeCastro missing all 13.

• Mendenhall missing several because of injury/ineffectiveness/general disinterest.

OK, so tell me: Will the Steelers have more wins than losses after 13 games? Will they still control their playoff fate?

You're laughing. No, you're crying. But you say maybe it's a blessing they'll finally have a top-10 pick again.

Now wake up! That goes for the rest of you, too: Snap back to reality. Go ask 20 other teams if they'd like to be a top-six seed — which the Steelers would be with a win Sunday.

Excuses might be tools of the incompetent, but guess what? Rational explanations are tools of the intelligent. Tomlin constantly saying “the standard is the standard” shouldn't preclude the rest of us from soberly assessing why the Steelers are just 7-6.

The primary reason should be obvious: Several of their best players went down.

Somebody asked Ryan Clark about all the “drama” this season, starting with Mike Wallace missing camp. He responded with a dose of cold, hard truth.

“I think more than anything, the drama we've had is the injuries,” he said. “That's probably been a lot more difficult to overcome than a guy not coming to a football game (hello, Rashard) or a guy not coming to camp.”

True, the losses to Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and San Diego were bad, but what about the undermanned road wins against the Giants, Bengals and Ravens?

Would you feel better if the Steelers had blown out three of those bad teams and lost to the three good ones?

You know what people would be saying then: They haven't beaten anybody.

I'm not pushing Tomlin for Coach of the Year, and he certainly is not beyond criticism. He has made tactical errors, for sure.

On balance, though, having this team in playoff position is no small feat.

Do you know how many playoff games the Dallas Cowboys have won since beating Cowher's Steelers in the Super Bowl 17 years ago?

Precisely two.

Imagine living that reality.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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