Not everyone was ready for season’s kickoff

It didn’t take long for the lockout’s impact to hit home. Where
it struck most prominently on the NFL’s opening weekend was a bit
stunning.

Four teams, all 2010 division winners, flopped so badly on
Sunday it makes you wonder if they realized these games counted.
Most notable was how the Pittsburgh Steelers were torn apart in
Baltimore. The NFL’s most physical and violent rivalry turned into
a tame stroll along the Inner Harbor on a late summer Sunday for
the Ravens.

The defending AFC champion Steelers, a group that always comes
to play, looked woefully unprepared, their vaunted defense allowing
385 yards, including 170 on the ground. There are some months when
the Steel Curtain doesn’t yield that many yards rushing.

The offense couldn’t bail out the Steelers, either, not while
committing seven turnovers – five by Ben Roethlisberger, who had
won his last seven starts against the Ravens.

”We got beat into submission,” linebacker James Farrior
said.

We got handled in all three phases,” added Steelers coach Mike
Tomlin. ”We accept responsibility for the plays we made and didn’t
make. We compliment them at the same time for the way they
performed. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do.”

A lot of that work didn’t get done during training camp and the
preseason, in part because many veteran teams – and the Steelers
certainly have their share of vets – didn’t want to push such
players. Better to save them for the regular season, allowing them
to work their way into ”football shape.”

But avoiding the pitfalls of preseason games has its drawbacks,
too. That manifested itself in Baltimore, where the Steelers
couldn’t keep up.

”It was like we were a step slow all day,” Farrior said.
”From the first play of the game, they had their foot on the gas
pedal and we couldn’t stop it.”

Ditto for the Falcons in Chicago, where the stats were
relatively even, but the performances hardly were.

Chicago was the more-inspired team in a 30-12 romp that could
have been worse. Anyone who expected Matt Ryan, Michael Turner,
Roddy White and John Abraham to be the best players at Soldier
Field instead saw Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brian Urlacher –
especially Urlacher – take charge.

”We’ve got a lot of things that have to be corrected,” Falcons
coach Mike Smith said, noting the high number of penalties, three
turnovers and sloppy tackling – all symptomatic of poor
preparation.

”In terms of how we’re going to do that, we’ll get back out
there, get on the horse, jump back into the saddle and get back to
work.”

Cliches notwithstanding, maybe the Falcons needed to ride the
horse more during training camp and the preseason.

The horse struggling the most resides in Indianapolis, which is
understandable considering Peyton Manning’s absence after neck
surgery. Seeing the Colts lose at Houston wasn’t unprecedented –
they were routed there a year ago, with Manning, and still won the
AFC South.

Seeing the Colts manhandled all over the field rather than
bonding together without Manning was shocking.

Yes, the Texans finally might be a legitimate playoff contender.
Still, it wasn’t as if the folks in Indy didn’t have an inkling
that Manning no longer was indestructible. If any team should have
had a backup plan, and been prepared for all contingencies come
opening kickoff, it was the Colts.

”We had fumbles, sacks, penalties, any way you could shoot
yourself in the foot, we did it,” center Jeff Saturday said. ”But
to be truthful, I don’t think if Peyton was back there it would
have been much better…”

Now that truly is frightening for Colts fans.

One team that was ready, willing and able Sunday was Washington,
which upset the injury-battered Giants 28-14. Perhaps coach Mike
Shanahan had it right after the lockout when he went with his
starters in preseason games much more than in the past – and
certainly more than the Redskins’ opponents. Among those opponents:
the Steelers and Colts, who essentially mailed in their
performances in those exhibition matches.

Not much changed for Pittsburgh and Indy in the season openers,
either.

AP Sports Writers Joseph White in Washington and David Ginsburg
in Baltimore contributed to this story.