Didn't see that one coming, didja?
Peyton Manning, with a bionic neck rebuilt like Steve Austin, looking sharp as ever after not playing since 2010 + The Steelers defense looking as 'old, slow and over' as ever (or at least since the 2011 season opening calamity against Baltimore) = Sad Pandas all around (which will make sense if you participated in last night's live chat during the game).But take heart, angry Steelers partisans, consider that prior to Sunday night, the Steelers have lost eight season of twenty season openers in the Cowher/Tomlin eras. And of those eight seasons in which the Steelers started the year with a loss, they made the playoffs in seven of them.
Point is, its a long season. The Steelers get Ryan Clark back next week, James Harrison ... soon(?) and tonight's injury log doesn't seem to be as bad as thought and besides road openers in prime time are always a tough out.
Some quick stream-of-conciousness thoughts from immediately following tonight's game ...
Max Starks: Other than one offsides penalty, #78 was almost flawless. Keeping Ben Roethlisberger's blindside clean isn't easy in the best of circumstances given his propensity to freelance, but doing it by holding a snarling Elvis Dumervil in check, after hardly practicing during a training camp which he was only signed only a few days before, well, that's impressive.
T.O.P: As in, time of possession. The Steelers dominated this category (35:05 to 24:55), which is typically a leading-indicator of who wins a game. But when you use nine minutes to kick a field goal, and your opponent takes a whole 36 seconds to score a touchdown, well, the that leading indicator goes out the window.
However, this would seem to be a harbinger of better things to come -- clearly the new Todd Haley offense can click for extended periods of time. Then again, so could the Bruce Arians model, and the knock on that was too many FGs, not enough TDs.
Heath Miller: His three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown makes for arguably his best game since week 7 of last season, and quarterback Roethlisberger missed him on a few other passes, including another sure-fire touchdown, that might -- might -- have affected the outcome differently. So is a big year in store for Miller? Time will tell.
Honorable mentions: Roethlisberger (for most of the game); Larry Foote, receiving corps
Running game: They hardly had an easy go of it running behind a line that was playing together for the first time in a real game, and Jonathan Dwyer looked particularly strong on a handful of carries, but a combined 20 carries for 63 yards isn't going to cut it from your #1 and #1A backs, even if the Steelers were passing from behind most of the 4th quarter.
The Defense: As in all of it. Like, nearly every single starter, sub and coach. That might sound like a cop out, not to point out specific players, but can you honestly name anyone -- besides elder statesman Larry Foote, who had a couple of nice individual efforts early on -- that isn't worthy of some scorn here? After the first quarter, there was: zero pressure on Manning; no push from the defensive line; the secondary was positively abused; the run-defense made a washed-up Willis McGahee looked like a Miami Hurricane again, and Peyton Manning even outran Lawrence Timmons for a first down at one point.
But more than anything else, Manning enforced his will on all 11 of them. He was smarter and better than everyone out there, including defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who, for the second consecutive time in two games in Denver, and two-consecutive season openers, could not dial up the right set of adjustments to stop an opponent. You can't make a stop, you can't win. It's that simple.
And, the Steelers quite simply could not make a stop tonight.