Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Patriots show Steelers how far they are from Super Bowl
Not only did the Pittsburgh Steelers open the season amid the banner celebration of the reigning Super Bowl champions but in the shadow of the New England Patriots signing superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown.
That was the talk of the Sunday Night Football telecast, where analyst Tony Dungy was critical of Patriots owner Robert Kraft for rewarding Brown’s bizarre behavior that orchestrated his release from the Oakland Raiders.
“Every year, my first message to the team was, ‘We want to win Super Bowls. Yes, we want to be talented, but we’ve got to be role models.’ These kids in our country look up to NFL players and coaches, and I really think this sent the wrong message,” said Dungy, who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. “I know coaches want to win, but I’m disappointed in Robert Kraft. I think at some point you say, just as an organization, ‘We are not going to do this.’”
Rodney Harrison didn’t agree with the move but said he wasn’t surprised the Patriots added Brown. Whether Brown will conform to coach Bill Belichick’s structure is another story.
“As a Patriot, you have to sacrifice,” said Harrison, a former All-Pro safety who won two Super Bowls with New England. “You have to sacrifice finances. You have to sacrifice your stats. You have to sacrifice a lot of individual things. And that’s the one thing that Antonio Brown has shown me, that he’s not willing to sacrifice anything for anybody else besides himself.”
That’s going to require Brown to become a model citizen in New England, something he wasn’t willing to do in Pittsburgh or Oakland. Perhaps catching passes from arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history will cause a dramatic transformation.
“Seeing him catch balls from Tom Brady would be beautiful,” Dungy said, “but he’s going to have to change if this is going to work.”
So will the Steelers, if they want to avoid another beatdown like they got in their 33-3 loss to New England.
1. Disastrous debut: To say the Steelers had difficulty replacing Brown’s production in the passing game is the understatement of all understatements.
They believed JuJu Smith-Schuster would step into Brown’s role as their top target and free-agent signing Donte Moncrief would become their No. 2 receiver.
JuJu didn’t, and I doubt Moncrief can.
Ben Roethlisberger’s first pass was a 7-yarder to Smith-Schuster, who drew single coverage from the Patriots. He wasn’t targeted again until late in the second quarter, when he caught a 19-yarder on third-and-10.
Moncrief’s debut was a disaster, as he caught only one of four targeted passes. One play after his 3-yard catch on second-and-18, Moncrief drew a flag for a false start.
He also had a couple of drops, including one in the end zone.
2. Blown coverage: The Steelers played without free safety Sean Davis, who was out with an ankle injury, which led to AAF alum Kameron Kelly starting in his first NFL game.
That’s not an ideal scenario, especially with rookie Devin Bush starting at inside linebacker.
The secondary was beaten soundly, as Brady found receivers open in crossing patterns over the soft spot over the middle.
But it was veteran cornerback Joe Haden — who the Steelers signed to a two-year contract extension worth $22 million — that blew a big play on the Patriots’ first touchdown.
Phillip Dorsett caught an 8-yard pass on third-and-5 for a first down, and the Patriots followed with lateral to Julian Edelman and pass back to White for a 32-yard gain.
On the next play, Steelers cornerback Joe Haden missed an open-field tackle on Josh Gordon, who cut inside past strong safety Terrell Edmunds for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
3. Hogan’s hero: Dorsett is best known as the player the Patriots acquired in the trade that sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts.
A former first-round draft pick from Miami, Dorsett was a disappointment in his first two seasons in New England. He had 44 catches for 484 yards and three touchdowns.
So, it was something of a surprise to see Dorsett torch the Steelers for touchdowns of 25 and 58 yards. It marked the first two-touchdown game of his five-year NFL career.
And it reminded me of the breakout performance by Chris Hogan, the former Penn State lacrosse player who had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers in the AFC championship game three years ago.
4. Fourth-and-short: The Steelers already were trailing, 17-0, when they hit the two-minute mark of the first half.
That’s when they lost this one.
On a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 47, the Steelers sent out their jumbo package with tackle Zach Banner and tight end Xavier Grimble. But after spying a linebacker in the gap, Roethlisberger called timeout.
Then the Steelers switched personnel, ditching the jumbo package for a five-receiver set. Roethlisberger’s pass hit Donte Moncrief in the chest and was broken up by safety Patrick Chung.
Brady led the Patriots to a field goal, going 30 yards on eight plays in 1:40 for a 20-0 halftime lead.
The Steelers have a Pro Bowl running back in James Conner and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen — not to mention a 6-foot-5 quarterback — and they didn’t trust that they could get a first down by running the ball.
5. Doubting the defense: The drafting of Devin Bush and the signing of Mark Barron at inside linebacker were designed to improve the defense against the pass.
Despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line — with new starters at left tackle and center — Brady encountered little pressure in the pocket and picked apart the Steelers over the middle with countless crossing patterns.
They gave the league the blueprint to beat the Steelers and neither coach Mike Tomlin nor defensive coordinator Keith Butler made adjustments.
On a night the Patriots celebrated winning their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they showed the Steelers just how far away they are from winning another Super Bowl.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .