FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Steelers staggered into the midway point of the season at 2-6, out of options and excuses.
They just aren’t very good, no matter how you try to paint it.
And really, it’s a shame, because the rest of the AFC North isn’t much better.
Cincinnati is 6-3 following its debacle of a loss at Miami Thursday night, when the Bengals became the third team in NFL history to lose an overtime game on a safety. Cincinnati also lost its top two defensive players, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, for the season in back-to-back games, and you can see the Bengals struggling the rest of the way.
Baltimore, the defending Super Bowl champion, looks more like a bunch of chumps, while Cleveland is still Cleveland.
And yet, somehow, the Steelers find themselves looking up at all three in the standings.
That the Steelers lost Sunday at New England was not unexpected. After all, the Patriots entered the game at 6-2 behind their future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
But this is a New England team that had just been getting by. Brady was having his worst season but was finding ways to will the Patriots to wins.
All he did was throw for 432 yards and four touchdowns and put up 55 points on the Steelers, the most the franchise has ever allowed.
“He had it working today,” said safety Ryan Clark. “He hit all the spots. If there was a weakness in the defense, he found it.”
In much the same way Brady has been finding ways to win, the Steelers keep finding ways to lose.
They’ve been good enough to be in every game they’ve played. But they’ve also been bad – or unlucky – enough to keep coming up short.
They fought back to tie the Patriots at 24-24 early in the third quarter before the bottom dropped out.
Changes could be coming.
“We’ll re-evaluate everything,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We have to after a performance like that. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll change for the sake of changing. But we will look at every aspect of what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with. Obviously, we can’t have performances like that.”
At this point, however, if there were better options, those players would be playing.
As Tomlin said, the Steelers won’t make changes just to change. Pittsburgh’s worst seasons since 1969 are five-win campaigns in 1970 and 1987.
And that has been the case for a reason. Fans might give up on a season. The Steelers will not.
They won’t play young guys just to get them experience or tank games to get a better draft pick.
And no, Tomlin isn’t going to be fired, despite the embarrassing losses that continue to mount. He’s earned enough patience, with two Super Bowl trips and one Super Bowl win, to survive a down time.
The Steelers will ride out this bad stretch, take the patient approach to what’s happening and not overreact.
And in the meantime, we can continue to watch this season unfold like the train wreck it has become and wonder how this team has fallen so far so fast.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer- reporter.com.