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Labriola on 2020 compared to 2005

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Before the season even started, there were questions, doubts, and even some certainty that this team and this coaching staff absolutely positively could not get the job done. And in the world where Steelers football is the hub of everything, getting the job done meant winning a Super Bowl.

• Then the season began, and when the Steelers got off to a good start it created some temporary feel-good, but it all created the sense of one-step-forward-two-steps-backward following a couple of losses at Heinz Field, the first to New England (stupid Steelers won't win anything if they can't beat Brady and Belichick) and the second coming vs. Jacksonville (how can they not even have a winning record in the series against an expansion team?)

• They apparently righted themselves with a four-game winning streak and put it together despite injuries to some of their key people, but three of those came against Baltimore, Green Bay, and Cleveland by just 24 total points, and those three teams would finish the 2005 season a combined 16-32. Hardly murderers' row.

• Then, probably full of themselves even though they had accomplished a grand total of nothing so far that season, the Steelers lost three games in a row, lost their ability to control their own playoff fate, and they lost their identity. And which of those three defeats was the most significant/aggravating kept the talk shows humming.

• The first loss was to a 3-6 Baltimore team. The second was a blowout in Indianapolis by the 10-0 Colts. And the third was embarrassing because in a 38-31 defeat at Heinz Field they showed less discipline than the Bengals – more turnovers and more penalties – and then had to endure the postgame celebration and the chirping from the visitor's locker room.

• The Steelers were 7-5, and even if they won-out they were going to need help to squeeze into the AFC Playoffs, because that loss to the Bengals essentially eliminated them from any real possibility of winning the AFC North Division. And getting smoked by the Colts on a Monday night at least partly because the coaches didn't believe it would be necessary to make special allowances for the din inside the RCA Dome – silent count, duh – wasn't confidence inspiring.

• And even if the Steelers hit this season-ending Pick 4 and got the help they needed and squeezed into the playoffs, they would find New England and Indianapolis there as the winners of the AFC East and AFC South, respectively, and so any postseason games against those teams would be played on the road. No reasonable scenario seemed to exists where the Steelers could emerge as the victor in either of those matchups, so what was the point?

• I was part of a three-man radio show every Wednesday during that 2005 season, and following the loss to the Bengals one of the topics broached was whether the Steelers could right themselves and make the playoffs. I didn't believe they could, and I said so on the air, and I came to that opinion because I didn't believe a team that lost three games in a row in the manner in which those Steelers did could suddenly exorcise those problems/issues with their performance in those defeats and turn around and put together a four-game winning streak.

• Mine was a logical argument in my mind, because it just didn't seem plausible the faults/inadequacies that had developed over the course of 12 regular season games possibly could be minimized almost immediately to win the first of those last four games and then eliminated to the degree that it could be sustained through the final three games that also were must-wins.

• And as a reminder, the Steelers' only four-game winning streak of the season had been fashioned against teams that finished the season a combined 16-32, and the first two of their last four opponents – Chicago and Minnesota – already had combined for 17 victories.

• At his weekly news conference following the defeat by the Bengals, the third loss in that losing streak, Coach Bill Cowher's opening statement included: "All the focus this week with our football team is on this football game. I'm not going to speculate on the future or dwell on the past … We recognize the importance of the game, and where we are, and the fact that we need to stop this three-game slide we're on. That's the state of where we are and the approach we're taking."

• Fifteen years later, the 2020 Steelers are experiencing some of the same travails as that 2005 Steelers team. Whether this group can get itself together to the extent that group did will play out over the next few weeks, and it begins for this group in Cincinnati as it began for that group vs. the Bears. The enormity of the task is daunting, just as it was 15 years ago; and the likelihood of success appears to be somewhere between unlikely and impossible, just as it did 15 years ago.

• At his weekly press briefing following the loss to the Bills that dropped the Steelers to 11-2, Ben Roethlisberger offered this in the midst of answering a questions about his mind-set following that defeat: "I'm going to go out there this week and give it everything I have to get this team back on track, because I feel it is a special team. I'm not going to sit here and talk about the end of the season because we know at the end of the season you'll talk about that. I'll never just hang it up in the middle of a season, obviously. This team is special. The season is not over. I want everyone out there to just take a deep breath. I know it's kind of crazy right now. I just want everyone to take a deep breath. We've got time. That's my mind-set, too. Take a deep breath, let's get ready to go this week."

• Whether the 2020 edition can right itself in the same way that the 2005 edition did is unknown, but it sure feels as though this team is in the same position as that team at that stage. And it also feels as though Cowher's words apply to 2020 in the same way Roethlisberger's would have applied to 2005.

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