For the second successive season the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl dreams crash down around them without the assistance of their star Running Back, Le’veon Bell who went down with a groin injury early in the first quarter and effectively ended the Steelers hopes of overcoming the empire that is the New England Patriots.
In many ways, this year’s AFC Championship game, might well have been decided by Mark Zuckerburg and his decision to give a 6-figure sponsorship figure to Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown. The decision of Brown to broadcast the Steelers locker-room after their victory in Kansas City on Facebook Live, and the resulting media storm that ensued, was all Bill Belichick needed.
Despite his desire to appear as a social media novice, and comments about not understanding Snap Face etc… you can be certain that Belichick was more than aware of what Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger had said. There are many stories of how Belichick uses these things to motivate his team, for example in the season following their first Super Bowl win, the Patriots were to play the Peyton Manning led Colts in the AFC Title game.
Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt did an interview where he proclaimed that they might as well give the Colts the ring now. That night in the pre-game run through usually reserved for going over game plans and tactics, Belichick played the interview on a big screen, and then simply pointing to his own Super Bowl ring told his team that you don’t get these for free, you got to earn them. The Patriots got the message and destroyed the Colts the next day.
Catchphrases & Karma
The Patriots for their part like to float a few snazzy catchphrases of their own, to reflect the dark side of the force that flows through Belichick’s personality. In the past, we have had the classic, Do Your Job, and Blount Force Trauma and following this victory, Patriots owner Robert Kraft tried to launch the equally cringeworthy Win One More. Whilst the Patriots crowd were more content with Where’s Roger (Goodell)?
No matter how you look at it, the reality is that the NFL bungled the Tom Brady deflategate situation so badly, that what we have seen this season from Brady is the result of the extra motivation he was given to strike back. The league didn’t follow their own rules that were already in place even if the balls were tampered with and since then there have been other occurrences and the NFL have not taken the same route, as seeking suspension of other players in the same way they did with Brady.
As sport so often follows a narrative that causes maximum embarrassment to one party, can you imagine the comfort level on the post-game platform if Roger Goodell does have to be present at a Patriots game and more than that, must pass the Lombardi trophy to Kraft, Belichick and Brady. I’m guessing that Mr Goodell will have never rooted for a Falcons victory as hard in his life.
The Patriots defensive game-plan is widely known to be to take away the best threat of the opposition and force someone else to beat them. When Le’veon Bell got hurt that plan got a whole lot easier for the Patriots, as they only really had to concentrate on Antonio Brown then. Big Ben to his credit was passing the ball well, but with Brown facing double and at times triple coverage he was forced to look elsewhere. Le’veon Bell might just be the best receiving back in the league (along with Cardinals David Johnson) and even if you contain him on the ground, he can be devastating in the passing game.
Without Le’veon Bell and Brown being taken away by Malcolm Butler and Devon McCourtney, Big Ben then had to look at second and third choices and time and time again they couldn’t make the plays to help him out. Be it dropping a touchdown pass, letting a third down go through their fingers or not getting over the goal line, the Steelers simply couldn’t generate enough.
The Patriots for their part as usual, executed their game plan and found the weak spots in the Steelers secondary who ended up making Chris Hogan look like Julio Jones, on the stat sheet at least.
You must think that at some point the bubble should burst for New England, I know Tom Brady keeps talking about maybe playing five more years, but at some point, soon at 40 years old there has to be some sort of drop-off, but Belichick just might be the best coach of all time so do not put anything past them.
For Pittsburgh, the future looks promising, next season they should get Le’veon Bell back healthy to complement Antonio Brown. The Steelers should also get Martavis Bryant back as well as Lardarius Green from injury and suspension, to fill out what looks to be a complex and free scoring defence. The Steelers have their own age defying miracle on defence in James Harrison and with the emerging Ryan Shazier coming through, it would not be that much of a stretch to see them back in the AFC title game next season.
Can they keep Le’veon Bell healthy for one of these games? The answer to that though just might decide if the Steelers are the band of rebels that finally knock off the Empire of the Patriots.