Measuring stick. Statement game. Monkey-off-the-back.
Often times, things get a label in order to be understood or explained, but it also seems that those directly involved are never the ones who need the label or an explanation.
The Steelers' 25-17 win over the New England Patriots was all of those things, but it only was all of those things to their fans and also to the media covering the game. To the Steelers, players and coaches alike, it was none of those things. An important victory, to be sure, and certainly one to be enjoyed, but for this franchise statements are made in Super Bowls and measuring up comes only in the final tally of championships won.
Still, this was a significant win for these Steelers, and it was because of how it was achieved more so than that they were able to do it.
As this 2011 season began back in late July with the lifting of the lockout, there were two primary issues apparently standing between the Steelers and a return trip to the Super Bowl to win their seventh Lombardi Trophy. Those issues being whether the pass defense was going to be able to stand up to the league's elite quarterbacks, and whether their own offense was going to develop enough firepower to be able to hold up its end in the games against those elite quarterbacks that turn into high-scoring, who-has-the-ball-last affairs.
All week, cyberspace had been filled with variations of the smart-alecky, "It's Tom Brady who owns the Steelers, not the Rooneys," but what happened on the grass showed that the Steelers own enough coverage people to line up and hold the league's best offense to 213 total net yards. Look at that number again. Brady came to Pittsburgh averaging 361 yards per game just passing, and the Steelers held the Patriots whole offense to 213 yards. And it happened without James Farrior and James Harrison, with Aaron Smith on injured reserve, without LaMarr Woodley for the game's final 20 minutes.
The coverage was superb, as good as can be expected based on the current rules of the game, even when the officials' interpretation of those rules is impacted by the whining from the Patriots sideline. Seriously, how obvious does it have to be? But the point is this showed the Steelers can line up and cover, go without a withering pass rush, and be successful against an elite NFL passing attack. Huge development.
When trying to neutralize the best offense/quarterback in football, it's incumbent upon your offense to possess the ball, win the time of possession, and start scoring points early. It has to be a combination of all three of those elements, because two-of-three probably gets you beat, 20-16, like Dallas a couple of weeks ago.
For an offense to use the pass as its primary weapon, the quarterback must be highly accurate in critical situations. Ben Roethlisberger was that for the Steelers. And Roethlisberger and his receivers were that a whole lot better than Brady and his receivers.
Yes, the red zone efficiency still needs to get better, and too many penalties. But last Sunday, the 2011 Steelers made it clear to everybody else what they have believed all along. They will contend for a championship this season.
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