"Sometimes, you get the bear. Sometimes, the bear gets you." I don't know who that quote was originally attached to, but I've heard Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau use it several times over the years. It was certainly a fitting saying last evening, after the Steelers went down to the Broncos, 31-19, in Peyton Manning's debut in Denver.
Manning played like Manning, and the Steelers defense struggled to contain him for most of the night. For his part, Ben Roethlisberger looked like an elite quarterback for most of the evening before throwing a pick-six to Tracy Porter with the game still in the balance.
I'm not saying I'm happy with the loss, and I'm not saying that the Steelers don't have a lot to work on--if they played a perfect game, they wouldn't have lost--but, for my money, season opening wins and losses are so overblown, I can't stand it.
There is way too much importance placed on the first game, and I realize that each regular season game is a precious commodity with only 16 of them to shape your season, but all you need to know about the NFL these days is that your defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York football Giants, were 7-7 after 14 games in 2011. It's all about how a team is playing in December, and not how it's playing in September. And, for the most part, I thought the Steelers made a pretty decent accounting of themselves in the face of a pretty feisty bear.
As I said last week in this article that I wrote for Behind the Steel Curtain, sometimes a team's reputation is its own worst enemy when it comes to scheduling. The Steelers are one of the marquee teams in the NFL, and that gives us Steelers fans some pretty awesome bragging rights. But when it comes to scheduling, it sure doesn't always bode well for the team. Opening up on the road in prime-time in Denver with it's rarefied air is one thing. But when you add to that the media circus surrounding Manning's Broncos' debut, it's akin to a top 5 college football team opening up on the road against an opponent ranked in the top 10. Fortunately, unlike college football, NFL teams are allowed to lose a few games and still compete for a championship.
And this year's season opener beat last season's hands down. If you remember 2011's curtain-raiser, the Steelers were manhandled, 35-7, by their bitter division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. However, Pittsburgh managed to bounce back and make the playoffs with a 12-4 record.
Not to sound like a cliche, but it's not the end of the world. However, if we're looking at an 0-2 start after a loss to the Jets at Heinz Field this coming Sunday, the sky could indeed start to fall.......at least in Pittsburgh.