Tim Benz: Are Steelers ripe for a letdown?
Let's try to predict the unpredictable.
Let's play the black-and-gold shell game.
So where is it?
Under which hat is hidden the unforeseen, unexplainable, stub-your-toe kind of loss the Steelers so often suffer?
Is it under the Green Bay, Houston or Indianapolis caps? All currently being worn by backup quarterbacks?
Is it under the Browns, Bengals or Ravens cap because going 6-0 against the division is just too tough to pull off?
Or maybe it will be a flat Thursday night performance against the Titans next week.
That would be my call, by the way.
Either that or a letdown on Christmas Day in Houston after an emotional win or gut-punching defeat against the Patriots the week before.
Regardless of when it happens, it is coming, right?
The more the local community becomes assured the Steelers will be no worse than 13-3 by season's end, the more convinced I become they'll be no better than 12-4.
And knowing the way the Steelers tend to go, it would be very much in their nature to finally figure out a way to beat Tom Brady but then lose to Tom Savage and/or DeShone Kizer.
You know, like managing to win in Kansas City and Baltimore, but losing at home to Jacksonville and at Chicago.
Although who knows, maybe that helps. Perhaps those were the games Mike Tomlin's team needed to get out of its system, and they'll have a more steady focus because it's late in the season and …
Oh wait, I just remembered the “Ryan Mallett Game.” So scratch that.
The truth is, none of this “has to” happen. It's not scripture. It's not law. It's just been a pattern.
An annoying, frequent, unnecessary pattern.
But last year, the Steelers did go 7-0 down the stretch, entirely against nonplayoff teams they were favored to beat. So we all had hopes the blind-spot bugaboo that plagued this club was in the past.
Then Chicago happened this year.
So can we at least hope the Steelers have, I don't know, “met their quota” for 2017?
“I respect everyone we play,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “Any time we step into a stadium, people are capable of beating us. Sometimes we're given more credit than we deserved. Maybe sometimes in the past, we weren't as good as you thought we were.”
This Steelers team is much better than the Bears. That 2015 team should have never lost to those Mallett-led Ravens. The 2012 club shouldn't have lost to Tennessee, Cleveland and Oakland teams that only had 4-6 wins by season's end. And the 2011 team should've never lost to Tim Tebow in the playoffs.
And so on, and so on.
Those advancing the notion the Steelers can avoid a surprise upset are quick to point out so many of those teams remaining on Pittsburgh's schedule are going to be taking the field without their starting quarterback.
“It's an element that you need to be prepared for,” Tomlin said. “And I'd imagine that, being the professionals that people who we compete against are, they're generally of that mentality.”
Over the years, it can be argued some low-level quarterbacks were better prepared for the Steelers than vise-versa. Along with Mallett and Tebow, other mundane quarterbacks to have executed these Lucy-pulling-the-football-away kind of defeats include Matt Cassel, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Locker, Terrell Pryor and Brandon Weeden.
Just to name a few.
The Steelers will need to avoid such defeats if they want to claim the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Because aside from the Steelers, the Patriots have almost as easy of a road through these last two months.
The Pats play the Jets, Dolphins (twice), Broncos, Raiders, and Bills (twice). Among those teams, only Buffalo is above .500.
“When you are doing what you are supposed to do, less of that (thinking) is required,” Tomlin said. “I find myself looking at global standings and relationships to people who you are competing against a lot more when you are down. Largely, I know that we have won enough to be in consideration for the things we desire. So there is less time spent on some of that stuff.”
Tomlin might not have meant it this way, but I'd argue “supposed to” in that quote should mean “beating everyone else besides New England.”
And then flip a coin at Heinz Field on Dec. 17th to see what happens for home field throughout the playoffs.
But too often in Pittsburgh, “supposed to” turns into “should have.”
That has to stop in the second half of 2017.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.