Robinson: Opinions abound over the Steelers' lost season
Welcome to Meaningless Sunday.
The Buccaneers, Browns and Raiders play meaningless games. The Steelers simply don't. Even when their late-season games don't decide a division title or a playoff seeding, they often serve as postseason auditions.
But for the first time since Heinz Field opened in 2001, the Steelers will play a means-nothing game there to end a season. (The only time they've had a losing record since Heinz Field opened, in 2003, they finished in Baltimore.)
Some younger Steelers will be seeing the stadium like they've never seen it before, with thousands of empty yellow seats and no game-time buzz. All that's to be decided is whether the Steelers go 7-9 or 8-8, if their winning percentage will be .438 or .500.
How did it come to this? There's an opinion for nearly every player in a locker room that won't be populated again by these very same players. A busy offseason will see to that. Some of those opinions:
They've got to work harder. Maybe it was the departure of follow-me players such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke. But there seemed to be a sense of entitlement with some players, a feeling they were so gifted they didn't have to put in the extra time or do things the right way. Their teammates noticed.
They need to take care of business early. Games in September (and October) count just as much as those in December. Beat the Raiders and Titans early, don't start 0-3 on the road, and December wouldn't have been an uphill climb.
“Everybody needs to understand every game is important, the gravity of every game,” Casey Hampton said. “You can't take any game for granted. You have to go into every game the same way, and I don't think we did that this year.”
Don't be an offense; don't be a defense; be a team. “We weren't on the same page the whole year,” Mike Wallace said. “When you have the potential on the team that we had, the talent, for us to be one of the best, be the best, but you don't make it happen, it's frustrating. It just never came together the whole time.”
They must play smarter. How many times during the season did fans say, “How could they do that?” The Steelers were saying it, too, after every mental-error penalty, every poorly run pass route, every unexecuted block, every missed assignment. Deft execution isn't all athletic ability. It also results from preparation and mental alertness. (Exhibit A: New England Patriots.)
They must coach better. James Harrison didn't drop names, but he made it clear it wasn't just the players who underperformed this season. “We've got to do a better job as players of playing the game, individually and collectively,” he said. “And we have to do a better job as coaches, coaching the game and putting our players in positions to make plays.”
And making sure they never again experience Meaningless Sunday.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.