THIS IS GENE1017
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Inside the Steelers locker room, in the minutes after the vomiting and the cramping and the stinking and the losing had ended for the day, Ben Roethlisberger hobbled toward the showers on two heavily wrapped knees.
As he passed Antonio Brown, who had just begun the ridiculous post-game ritual in which he dresses so slowly and carefully you’d think he was going straight to the prom, no words were exchanged.
Because there was no point, was there? They hadn’t communicated effectively all day; why attempt it now?
The Steelers stunk from one edge of the depth chart to the other Sunday in this wickedly perplexing 30-15 loss to the Dolphins, but make no mistake – nobody stunk like Ben and A.B., the ostensible MVP candidate and the supposed best receiver on the globe.
“We gotta find a way to win,” was about as insightful as Brown got after the final fidget with a white three-piece suit with red flowers on the coat and vest, perfectly arranged above a pair of maroon slippers that would make Hefner blush. “I always want to make a difference.”
And then . . .
“I don’t call the plays; I just run the plays.”
Yes. Or fail to do so.
Brown caught four balls, two while the game was competitive. Ben, who had the mitigating circumstance that he was beat to hell, was probably worse. With 4:20 left and Miami ahead 23-8, Roethlisberger’s passer rating was practically flat-lining – 15.7.
In a failed tune-up for a diminished AFC showdown with New England next weekend, the Steelers needed Cobi Hamilton to provide their only touchdown catch.
Cobi Hamilton, who’d been on the roster for, let’s see, yes, one day.
Roethlisberger, whose primary fashion option for the post-game interview was pulling on a t-shirt that was the only thing redder than the hot welt on his back, actually started by saying, “Sorry I’m not dressed up for you guys.”
Neither Ben nor Brown offered any excuses, but even if they had and even had they been legitimate, the fact is that if Nos. 7 and 84 are not going to play well, Mike Tomlin’s team is not going to be successful, either next week or in the long term.
“We’ll absorb it, and assess it,” said a visibly upset Tomlin just before the locker room opened. Asked specifically about Ben-to-Brown, the combination responsible for so many high scoring victories around here, the head coach said something simple and something pointed:
“We didn’t find a rhythm there,” and then, “We didn’t perform well enough.”
Ben thought he’d hyper-extended his left knee as he was trying to step out of a tackle in the first half. His right knee was black and blue from a previous collision. But even before either of those happened, he played poorly.
His first interception was a great play by Pro Bowl Reshad (cq) Jones, but his second was a bad read by the quarterback, and his third, or what should have been his third, was just flat dropped by Dolphins corner Byron Maxwell, who’d given Brown fits all afternoon.
“They’re a good football team,” Ben ventured dubiously. “They have really good football players.”
Um, no, they’re not and no, they don’t.
They’re so good the only team they could beat before yesterday was the Cleveland Browns (0-6), and they needed overtime to do that.
As for what he saw when he looked Brown’s way, Ben had a quip: “A lot of defenders. What we’ve seen a lot.”
What, they double-covered Brown because Sammy Coates wasn’t 100 percent? When do they NOT double-cover Brown?
“Ask someone else,” Brown advised. “I thought I had some room, but I guess not.”
Perhaps we’re over-simplifying here, because Ben and A.B. were not exactly Bogarting the incompetence. The offense line contributed four holding penalties (one was declined) and a false start to this disaster and thus the Steelers avoided the red zone entirely and possessed the pig for only 23:30, the worst such apportionment of the season. They were 3 for 11 on third down.
The defense and special teams were equally awful.
As for the coaching, with Le’Veon Bell finally slashing Miami’s league-worst run defense in the third quarter, Todd Haley let backup Landry Jones drop back and throw to no one in particularly on third-and-one. Brilliant. I guess the fact that the Tennessee Titans ran for 235 yards on this very lawn last week did not inform Pittsburgh’s game plan in the least. The Steelers ran only 16 times. C’mon.
The play that most typified the whole shaggy effort was a third-and-10 Roethlisberger called from the shotgun early in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins led 23-8, but there was still more than 12 minutes to play. Ben looked for Brown, who only had to beat man coverage by Maxwell on the right sideline. Brown could not separate, Maxwell broke up the play easily, and the Steelers punted.
It was the second time this season that Brown was held to four catches and 39 yards; the Bengals did it to him in Week 2.
You need the good news now.
All three of the other teams in the AFC North lost yesterday. I didn’t see a single play of any of those other games, yet I’m pretty confident nobody stunk quite so odiferously as the black and gold.