The hardest thing that any true sports fan has to assimilate into their consciousness is that their team lost in the playoffs and, just like that, their season is over. For the fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers today, myself included, you have to sprinkle in a heavy dose of disbelief on top of the normal amount for, well, a number of reasons. The biggest of which is that they lost to the 8-8 Denver Broncos, a team that is supposed to be so offensively deficient that a group of blind nuns should be able to hold them to 10 points (no offense to blind nuns, of course.)
Denver, a one trick pony coming into this Sunday afternoon game, did the unthinkable and simply out-coached the Steelers on a day that Pittsburgh was at far from their peak and Denver pulled out everything in their arsenal to win. And while I would love to sit here and point out the number of injuries and key players missing that would have made this game a rout going the other way, I simply can't do it because the bottom line comes down to game planning, not personnel.
No, the Steelers had all they needed to win that game easily, despite the missing and hobbled players, they just did a horrible job of game preparation. Or, on a more friendly not to Denver, the Broncos simply came out with a game plan the Steelers were totally not expecting.
Look, Pittsburgh played the game with one objective defensively, stop the run. They committed every thing they had to doing that, even to the extent of placing the entire 11 men within ten yards of the line for most of the game. While they did have success in that, they held Denver to just 131 rushing yards, they didn't play the pass at all and guess what, that's what Denver burnt them on.
Denver came out with the offensive game plan of utilizing the play action to burn the top defense in the league who was without their starting safety, Ryan Clark. With Pit playing the run for all it's worth, Denver was able to get a number of big pass plays off, especially in the second quarter when they scored the decisive 20 points.
They, as in Denver, came out in the second half with the same strategy. It didn't quite net them the same results, only scoring 3 in the half, but they moved the ball and ate clock. Then, shockingly, when they ran their first play in overtime, they used that same play action to end the game on an 80 yard TD strike.
On that game ending play, the Steelers were yet again overplaying the run, leaving their cornerback one on one without safety help, thus allowing a simple throw, catch and run to end their season.
It was a tragic, shocking, and well, hugely unexpected loss for the Steelers and one where they allowed themselves to be dictated defensively by the Broncos as opposed to the other way around, which is traditional Steelers football.
I don't know what my boys were thinking during the entire game there Sunday, but I have to place the blame on the defense while saluting the Broncos for coming out and out playing and out coaching one of the greatest teams in the NFL.
Here's hoping you can do it to New England next week!
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS