Tim Benz: As ‘Team Turmoil,’ can Steelers survive extended winless streak?
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle often says, “Winning is a deodorant.”
Well, maybe he can lend Mike Tomlin a can of Right Guard, because his Steelers really stink right now.
The Steelers stand at 0-1-1. They tied a Browns team that hasn’t won since former President Barack Obama’s last month in office. And they just lost 42-37 on Sunday to the Chiefs, who feature a quarterback in his first year as a starter.
That quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, threw six touchdowns and was not intercepted. He took just one sack. Boy, does he look good.
The next time I watch him play in person, I hope it’s against an NFL defense to see what he can really do. Because he didn’t face one Sunday.
If you watch this game back on the NFL Network, you might think you accidentally sat on your remote control and changed the channel to Comedy Central. The game against Kansas City was a gong show of defensive misalignment, frantic substitutions, pre-snap confusion and post-snap ineptitude.
Aside from that, the defense was great.
To say nothing of missed place kicks, questionable punting, rotten decision-making by the coaches, a dozen penalties and numerous overthrown deep balls.
The Steelers have done everything possible to be winless after two weeks. Frankly, they’re a half-game better than they deserve to be. Any franchise less cursed than the Browns would have beaten them in the opener.
“What are we? 0-1-1,” Sean Davis wondered aloud. “Yeah. That’s ugly. I have never been in this before. We are searching for that first win. Searching for what we are going to do. We all have to do more.”
It had been 27 game weeks since the Steelers went back-to-back weeks without winning. That dates to the end of a four-game losing streak in 2016. Now they have failed to post a win the last three times they have taken the field: losing their playoff game against Jacksonville, tying Cleveland and losing to the Chiefs.
That “winning as a deodorant” theory has come in quite handy along the way. It has made the stench of their off-the-field shenanigans tolerable. Anthem protests, drug suspensions, contract disputes, online threats to media members, failed guarantees and social media missteps too numerous to chronicle largely have been offset by an AFC championship game appearance and 22 wins in those 27 weeks.
I have to wonder how “Team Turmoil” is going to respond when it doesn’t have winning as an antidote. Defensive lineman Cam Heyward was asked if he was worried about that.
“Nope. Not at all,” Heyward responded. “We have a great group of guys who are going to come in hungry. We’re going to get the job done.”
I’d like to agree with Heyward there. But my hunch is that unless the Steelers start winning fast, these continued empty weeks without a victory will lead this team into dumpster fire territory.
A team as combustible as this one could explode with a losing streak acting as the kerosene.
Cracks are already starting. Wide receiver Antonio Brown threatened a reporter after a negative article last week. Then he got into a verbal exchange with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline during the game Sunday.
On more than one occasion, he left the field exasperated, gesturing angrily and snapping off his helmet. He also bolted out of the locker room before answering any questions about the loss. None of the other starters did that.
All that comes on top of Le’Veon Bell’s continued absence and the offensive linemen in the room voicing frustration about it.
This team has been stable enough to offset issues like these in the past because they have been mitigated by on-field success. Another loss or two before they bust into the win column, and it will be an erupting volcano.
“It’s kind of a (look in the) mirror gut check,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “So we will see how everyone will respond.”
Oh, no doubt this team responds. The “how” part is where it gets interesting.
Might need something a little stronger than deodorant.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.