There were questions. Sure there were questions. It was only natural to have questions about a team painted as a contender that had somehow found within itself enough incompetence to perform that way. The team had arrived there undefeated but left humiliated. Embarrassed by a rookie quarterback. Exposed by the combination of a rookie head coach and a fired head coach who had become the rookie's defensive coordinator.
Was it just one game? Or was it a peek behind the curtain at their true selves?
Today, you have your answer. And just as it was that 34-3 posed the question in the first place, 43-14 answered it.
After a couple of victories to open the 2016 regular season, and because those victories had followed months worth of accolades about the dynamic talent on their roster, the Pittsburgh Steelers arrived in Philadelphia on top of their world. It took no more than three hours for that world to be shattered and everything we believed about them to be thrown into doubt, but such is the impact of 34-3 in the National Football League. In a business where a win is a win and games routinely are decided by the outcome of a final possession, the Steelers took a butt-whooping. A total and complete butt-whooping administered by an opponent generally considered to be inferior.
The physical toll that game took on them could be found among the seven names on their inactive list last night. Robert Golden, Ramon Foster, Ryan Shazier are starters, and as the No. 3 receiver for an offensive unit that has Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Eli Rogers could be considered a starter, too. The mental toll, the psychological toll that game had taken on them was up for discussion.
The hope was that they were tougher, more seasoned, obstinate in a way that would prevent them from losing confidence, from losing the belief in each other they had been nurturing for a few years as the roster gradually transitioned to fit the talents of the next generation. But that wasn't a certainty. Little is a certainty in a business where being a Super Bowl participant one year routinely leads to a playoffless season the next.
And so it was that the Steelers took the field last night at Heinz Field for a game against a Chiefs team that had won 13 of its last 15 games, including playoffs, in an unassuming manner maybe, but 13-of-15 is 13-of-15. Remember, this is a league where a win is a win. Anyway, as they took the field against the Chiefs, there seemed to be a different way of looking at these Steelers. Had we seen what we thought we had seen, or was it a mirage? Were they the truth? Or only a rumor?
Game action from Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
It would be their performance in this game that would provide the answer. It did, and they didn't make the audience wait long for it.
Just as the Steelers had charted the course for 34-3 with some initial ineptitude, they did the same for 43-14 last night with some initial brilliance. This time the line of scrimmage belonged to them, and their early claim to it was staked by Cam Heyward, who would finish the game with three sacks and a deflected pass that turned into a Ryan Shazier interception. On any other day, Heyward is the unquestioned star for the tone he set and the plays he made, but five touchdown passes by the quarterback trumps everything in this sport.
And while Roethlisberger and Heyward were their units' headliners, there was no shortage of stars in supporting roles. Le'Veon Bell finished with 178 yards from scrimmage and only needed 23 touches to get there. Antonio Brown caught two of those five touchdown passes. Vince Williams was everywhere. Ryan Shazier was everywhere else. Tight ends Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson combined for three receptions that totaled 60 yards and a touchdown. Artie Burns broke up a couple of passes. Le'Veon Bell rushed for a touchdown. Stephon Tuitt forced a fumble. Markus Wheaton caught two passes – one for a 30-yard touchdown and the other to convert the first two-point attempt of the season.
It was that kind of a performance, and because it was that kind of a performance the week after 34-3, well, all the better. All the better because an NFL season is going to contain adversity, and that adversity can create doubt, and that doubt can fester and become the disease that kills the patient.
But because of what they did against the Chiefs, the Steelers can consider themselves back on track. Not invincible, because there were more injuries sustained in the game against the Chiefs that could further weaken a roster that has stiffer challenges ahead. Definitely not invincible, because there still are holes in their game to go along with those weaknesses on their roster.
When they left Philadelphia on Sept. 25, there were questions about these Steelers they themselves had created by their performance in that game. With what they did against the Chiefs, the Steelers answered one question and left the impression they very well could be capable of finding answers to enough of the others.
Their answer: It was just one game.
What happened in Philadelphia was just one game.