CANTON, Ohio – After the emotional high created by the multi-day celebration of Jerome Bettis' induction into football immortality, what the current Steelers did inside the same Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to conclude the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities was disappointing.
Meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but disappointing nonetheless.
The Steelers opened their 2015 preseason, and here it's worth mentioning once again that it was the first of five preseason games, with a dud of a performance in a 14-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings during an evening in which it quickly became obvious that the '3' was going to be it for the guys in the black helmets no matter how long the game lasted.
And the worst part of that reality comes from the left knee injury sustained by Shaun Suisham during the second half kickoff, an injury described by Coach Mike Tomlin as "significant or potentially significant," which meant the Steelers played 30 minutes of the game without anyone capable of adding another '3' to the existing '3.' Suisham was on crutches as he boarded one of the buses for the ride back to Pittsburgh after the game.
(As a side note, losing a kicker at this stage of the NFL calendar is hardly optimum because the options are to take a shot at somebody not in a team's camp with rosters set at 90 players, or to spin the waiver wire wheel and hope someone decent becomes available and isn't claimed by a team with a worse 2014 record. Remember this the next time you start whining about a kicker showing no real interest in making a tackle.)
Now back to the action. And what there was of it didn't put a smile on Tomlin's face.
"That wasn't the type of performance we were looking for," is the way Tomlin opened his postgame remarks, before continuing with the following: "There were some things we were trying to get done, things that I shared with you guys, that we thought were going to be important for us to play well. Quite frankly, we didn't do it. We had some pre-snap penalties that defeated us. We talked about that the other day. Third-and-10 became third-and-15. We had delay of games (penalties) and things of that nature in several instances. We lost the turnover battle. We made ourselves an easy team to beat because of some of those things. We missed some opportunities, including a scoring opportunity in the red zone. We didn't capitalize on it. We turned the ball over. We didn't produce points off a turnover when we had a short field. There was some shoddy tackling at times. These are not things to be excited about, but they are things that we will own, correct and get ready for our next opportunity, which is right around the corner as we go to Jacksonville."
The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Minnesota Vikings to kick off the 2015 preseason in the NFL/Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
The Aug. 14 game against the Jaguars would have served as the preseason opener under typical circumstances, but 2015 brought the Steelers to their sixth Hall of Fame Game since 1963, which meant they got to play an earlier, bonus game that doesn't count in the standings.
Which is what should be remembered above all else – that the 2 hours and 46 minutes spent dancing with the Vikings on Sunday night doesn't count in the standings. And because it didn't count in the standings, and because the Steelers have to do this four more times before preparing to voyage to New England for the regular season opener, the list of names under the "did not play" column for Pittsburgh were the same ones who would've carried much of the responsibility for defeating Minnesota had this game counted in the standings.
Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Heath Miller, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, and James Harrison did not play at all. Others not even in uniform were Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Jarvis Jones, Mike Mitchell, and Shamarko Thomas. Some of them didn't play because of minor injuries, and some of them didn't play just because.
Of course the Vikings operated similarly, which means it's virtually impossible to evaluate the big picture because the guys doing the things to contribute to victory or committing the sins guaranteeing defeat aren't going to be front-and-center come the middle of September.
Some observations, though, just for the heck of it:
Alejandro Villanueva did well for himself at left tackle for every snap that Kelvin Beachum didn't play, which was three-plus-quarters worth. One of the things Villanueva had to develop was the mental toughness to stick with his techniques as he fatigued because he just hadn't played a whole lot of snaps as an offensive lineman. Villanueva wasn't perfect, but he showed he has the makings of an NFL player. The flip side to that was there didn't seem to be much consistency of performance anywhere else along the offensive line once the regulars called it a night.
Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Brandon Boykin made some plays among the group of defensive regulars. The defense turned the ball over on downs by stuffing a fourth-and-1 from the 10-yard line. It allowed only 245 net yards of offense and held the Vikings to 3-of-13 (23 percent) on third downs. But there were some missed tackles by a team that tackles at every training camp practice, and a badly blown coverage leading to the 34-yard pass to MyCole Pruitt that was the Vikings' first touchdown.
On offense, Dri Archer did not look tentative with the football as he had throughout his rookie season, and there were some flashes of production that resulted from his quickness and speed. But overall, this unit couldn't get out of its own way. There were two pre-snap penalties, plus what looked like a too-early snap to Landry Jones as he seemed to be changing a protection at the line of scrimmage, plus one dropped pass that cost a touchdown, plus two caught passes that became turnovers following fumbles. Landry Jones' passer rating was 95.0 after the first quarter but deteriorated from there to the 61.3 it was at the end, which is a numerical way of describing the way the offense was trending as the game progressed.
Toward the end of his post-mortem with the media, Tomlin was asked what he might say to rookie tight end Jesse James, he of the dropped touchdown pass and one of the two lost fumbles.
Tomlin was terse. "Knuckle up. This is Sunday ball. This is not Saturday ball. That's what I say to him."
And to those others as well.