Steelers regrouping after meltdown in Baltimore
Go ahead, pick your adjective. The Pittsburgh Steelers probably used it following a stunning 35-7 loss to Baltimore on Sunday.
Safety Ryan Clark called it ''a whipping.'' Several players went with ''humbling.'' Linebacker James Harrison considers it ''a reality check'' while offensive tackle Willie Colon labeled it ''embarrassing.''
Whatever it was, it wasn't nearly good enough for a team that spent training camp talking about taking the next step after a crushing Super Bowl defeat.
The offense, the one considered the team's most potent since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took over eight years ago, turned it over seven times. The defense, the one that's shouted down any suggestion that it's starting to get too old, allowed Baltimore running back Ray Rice to go over 100 yards and failed to take the ball away once.
The best team in the AFC a year ago didn't look like the best team - or even the second-best team - in the AFC North.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown spent Monday dutifully going through tape highlighting the ugly details.
''A lot of guys would have never expected us to come out with a game like that,'' Brown said.
Particularly the Steelers.
Though coach Mike Tomlin did his best to try and calm his team, shaking hands with his players afterward and reminded them it was just three miserable hours in a four-month marathon.
Still, for a team playing against the usual high expectations, to fall woefully short of them even for a week was disheartening.
''We knew going into the game that we were going to face a lot of adversity, but we normally stay positive and respond to it,'' Brown said. ''But I think everything we did, as far as responding to it, wasn't in the right way.''
It's hardly time to panic. Yet it has been so long since the Steelers were manhandled so completely even the team's most even-keeled guys lost their cool. Safety Troy Polamalu, a day after signing a contract extension that will keep in with the team through 2014, found himself mixing it up with several Ravens out of frustration.
''I may have lost it a little bit, which is not a good example,'' Polamalu said. ''You know what, that's also part of this game. The truth of it is we got our butts kicked.''
There's plenty to work on heading into Sunday's home opener against Seattle.
The somewhat patchwork offensive line failed to open any holes for running back Rashard Mendenhall, who managed just 45 yards on 12 carries as the Steelers spent most of the second half trying to get back in the game. The Ravens also sacked Roethlisberger four times and harassed him into three interceptions.
The defense, which returned all 11 starters from a unit that led the league in points against a year ago, let Baltimore do whatever it wanted whenever it wanted.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who'd never beaten the Steelers when Roethlisberger was in the lineup, threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Rice, who managed a total of 84 yards in three games against Pittsburgh last year, ripped off a 36-yard on Baltimore's first snap and never looked back.
Harrison, who left the game with a knee contusion, posted on his Facebook page ''That's what you call getting beat like you stole something!!!!''
The Steelers are hoping to steal back momentum next week against the Seahawks, who hardly looked like world beaters in a loss to San Francisco yesterday.
They may have to do it without Colon, who is dealing with a triceps injury and could be out the rest of the season. The team re-signed Colon to a five-year, $29 million deal in July and Colon had a solid camp before apparently suffering the injury late in the second half against the Ravens.
If Colon misses the entire season, it could throw the line into more upheaval. The team cut veterans Flozell Adams and Max Starks before camp started to save money against the salary cap before signing Trai Essex a few weeks ago. Colon was supposed to be a calming presence on a unit that has struggled at times. It's uncertain how the group would look.
The defense, save for a leg contusion suffered by Harrison, is healthy and Tomlin brushed off any suggestion that his group of 30-something defenders have lost a step.
''I'm not ready to judge it from a speed standpoint,'' he said. ''We didn't turn around enough ball carriers. We didn't get off well enough on third down. We didn't create turnovers ... Usually speed is a part of that equation but I'm not ready to say that at this juncture.''
What he is ready to say is that his team needs to get better quickly. The Ravens sent a loud message that they're not going anywhere anytime soon. The Steelers can't let their rivals become a distant speck on the horizon.
The benefit of being a veteran team, however, is that panic doesn't come easy. Sure, Pittsburgh knows it needed to play better and yes, the team hardly looked like the one that dominated the Ravens so thoroughly a year ago.
It was still just one week. There are 15 more to come.
''Coming into this game, we thought our offense was better than what it was,'' Roethlisberger said. ''This gives us a chance to regroup and get ready for next week. I just think this was a bump in the road.''