The most surprising game Sunday was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ complete collapse at the hands of their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in a 35-7 blowout. The Steelers came within six points of winning the Super Bowl last season, and they’d brought back almost their entire team for another title run. What went so wrong?
Since they drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft and he became their starting quarterback, Pittsburgh has been a model franchise. Over the past seven years, they’ve made it to the playoffs in five of those seasons, played in three Super Bowls, and won two. There is some concern that the team’s window is closing because they now have one of the oldest teams in the NFL. (In contrast, the Green Bay Packers are coming off a Super Bowl victory and have one of the youngest teams in the NFL.) And Sunday’s blowout in Baltimore only adds to the concern in the Steel City. How can they get beaten by 28 points and expect to be a contender?
History has a couple examples of teams that bounced back from huge early season defeats. In 1979, the Steelers lost to the Chargers by a score of 35-7. This was near the end of their great run as the team of the 1970s, but the Steelers were still the defending Super Bowl champs. The Chargers were one of their main rivals for the AFC crown, and it had to look like there was a changing of the guard. But the Steelers regrouped and went on to win their fourth Super Bowl later that season. However it was their last trip to the Super Bowl for almost 15 years.
In 1994, the 49ers had become the team to beat as they signed superstar free agent CB Deion Sanders to complement their high powered offense led by QB Steve Young and WR Jerry Rice. But they flunked an early season test in a 40-8 home loss to Philadelphia in October. By the end of the season, it turned out this defeat wasn’t a sign of trouble, but only a speed bump. The 49ers went on to win their next 10 straight, and eventually the Super Bowl. They haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since, but they did make it back to the playoffs in six of the following eight seasons.
A blowout loss isn’t a sign of disaster for a contending team. Sometimes it’s just a one-game fluke. In the Steelers case Sunday, they committed seven turnovers while the Ravens had none. Roethlisberger was picked off three times and fumbled twice, which left him about halfway toward matching his turnover total from all of last season.
But for as ugly as Big Ben’s opening weekend performance was, it’s not likely he’ll play that poorly again. That game was only one loss in the record book, and one game is not a predictor for future success. It’s one loss that the Steelers will bounce back from.