The Steelers entered the 2021 regular season with very low expectations. Those expectations may prove to be correct when all is said and done. But it’s hard to feel that way, right now, isn’t it? That’s how satisfying that 23-16 Week 1 road victory over the Bills truly was.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve felt this way after a Steelers Week 1 victory for close to 30 years.
Yes, sir, I was 20 years old and absolutely tickled to death after Pittsburgh marched into the Astrodome and walked out with a rather shocking 29-24 win over the hated Oilers in Week 1 of the 1992 season.
Bill Cowher coached his first game for his hometown team, that day.
The Steelers didn’t have any debuts quite as monumental, as they opened their 2021 campaign against the Super Bowl-contending Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, on Sunday, but they did have several rookies debut as starters, including Dan Moore Jr., Kendrick Green, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris. And that was just on offense, a unit that also saw the debut of Matt Canada as offensive coordinator and Adrian Klemm as offensive line coach.
It sure looked like a bunch of newbies were manning the offensive side of things early on, as Canada’s new wrinkles only accounted for 54 total yards in the first half.
Thankfully, the defense had several high-end veterans on hand to keep things in check, including Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick and what’s his face, the $122 million outside linebacker. However, Keith Butler’s unit also saw the debut of rookie safety/slot corner/regular corner Tre Norwood who was thrown right into the fire. Oh yeah, and James Pierre got a helmet over Ackhello Witherspoon, along with the most significant playing time of his young career. We also can’t forget about the Steeler debuts of veterans Melvin Ingram and Joe Schobert, two offseason acquisitions.
That’s a lot of new stuff to lug with you for your regular-season curtain jerker…on the road…against a bona fide Super Bowl contender…in front of that contender’s rabid, hungry and very loud fan base.
I gotta be honest and confess that I wasn’t expecting a ton from the Steelers on Sunday—or, should I say, I wasn’t expecting a win. I was actually anticipating what I witnessed over the first two quarters: a stout and game defense propping up a gamey and out-of-sync offense.
I thought the contest would be close and that Pittsburgh would hang in there for four quarters. But when all was said and done, I expected to see a score similar to the ones posted during Bills’ victories in matchups between the two teams late in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
At least the score was similar, anyway, as the Steelers surprised a bunch of folks by overcoming a lackluster first half, along with a 10-0 deficit, and leaving Highmark Stadium with a 23-16 victory.
I don’t feel like getting too analytical in this article; it just doesn’t feel prudent for me to do so at this juncture. I just want to live off of the high of this victory for a bit.
It was shockingly satisfying for me.
I was impressed by the effort. I was impressed by the resilience. I was impressed by the relentless pass-rush led by, believe it or not, Ingram, who seemed unblockable for most of the day.
I was impressed by how much better the offense looked in the second half. Did it look great? No, but there was more of a rhythm. There was more continuity and fluidity. Who am I kidding? Those words are probably too big for a writer like me to use.
I feel like typing WOOOHOOOO! That’s what I was yelling as I watched Chase Claypool dominate his man downfield a few times, JuJu Smith-Schuster knock down a few men after tough catches and Diontae Johnson display perfect concentration and footwork as he bobbled and then caught Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-10 lead early in the final period.
And what about that blocked punt by Miles Killebrew, like Ingram, a free-agent pickup in the offseason, and subsequent touchdown by Ulysses Gilbert III, who pounced on the loose ball and marched into the end zone?
What a team win.
Mostly, I’m proud to call myself a Steelers’ fan. I know there are a lot of like-minded people feeling the same way, right now. Pittsburgh came into the season with very low expectations.
The Bills might yet go on to be the bona fide contender many predicted they would be, while the Steelers may yet find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture when all is said and done.
It may ultimately be proven that the Steelers do not have the roster of a champion, but they’ve had the heart of one as an organization for the better part of five decades.
What a day and a week to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan!
1-0 hasn’t felt this good in quite a while.