Sure, it stung.
Stung you right to the bone in disbelief probably — left you shaking your head so hard that your Steelers tassel hat might have fallen off.
But that’s the initial reaction, the immediate takeaway from the Steelers getting manhandled by the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night in an AFC Wild Card Game at Heinz Field and finally succumbing, 30-17, to see their season end with a flop.
But the flop wasn’t the story? Was it?
To me, those 60 minutes on Saturday night weren’t the story of these Pittsburgh Steelers — not even close.
In full disclosure, I’ve never been confused for an overly glass-half-full guy, but even after what some consider a devastating loss and abrupt end to a season, a guy like me can take a step back and consider the entire sum. One that screams loud and certain that this Steelers’ season should be viewed as tipping much more positive than negative.
After all, go back through your mind during the St. Vincent days and this past training camp. Did you, in good conscience, predict this team would go 11-5? If you did, if you thought they were going to be this good, you were in the vast minority of people who I came across.
In my travels, most people — me included — put their prognostication hats on and thought the Steelers were about a .500 team. From that vantage, they overachieved.
Also, take what happened in the Baltimore loss on Saturday, as the running game scuffled and couldn’t find any semblance of continuity, relying on the three-headed monster of Ben Tate, Josh Harris and Dri Archer. Those three failed miserably, gaining 43 yards between them.
Know what such an abysmal showing on the ground did? It showed precisely how superb and magnificent of a running back and pure offensive threat Le’Veon Bell became during the 2014 season; a guy just as apt to hurt with on the ground as he is with his pass-catching skills.
It ended up where, against Baltimore in the loss, Ben Roethlisberger was often frazzled and plays sputtered when the protection broke down. Such a showing shouted to how effective Bell is making something out of nothing and getting open in such situations.
That’s something positive to takeaway from 2014. How can it not be?
Same thing with the refinement of skills for Antonio Brown.
Here’s a guy who came into 2014 burdened with the responsibility of being Roethlisberger’s No. 1 target with no true No. 2.
All Brown did was rise to among the top handful of receivers in the game, pull in 129 passes for almost 1,700 yards and force you to pop up each time a pass was thrown his direction.
Brown is trending in the right direction — and that all happened in 2014.
So too did our first glimpse of Martavis Bryant, the long and rangy receiver who fans have hollered for since the zenith of Plaxico Burress’ career here in Pittsburgh.
Bryant averaged 21 yards per catch and scored eight times, even as it is glaringly obvious he’s still refining his skills as an NFL receiver.
To me, there’s a whole lot more positive in such a situation than there can be found any negative.
Follow the play of the offensive line, as well. Admittedly, the unit was less-than-adequate against the Ravens in the Wild Card loss, but under line coach Mike Munchak, and by any measure, how can you walk away from seeing them throughout the 2014 season and not say that they got vastly better as the year progressed? Again, find the negative there because I can’t.
On defense, as Ike Taylor struggled and was eventually injured, the Steelers nurtured talents Brice McCain and Antwon Blake and turned them into trustworthy performers in the back end of the defense.
Did you ever think that would happen? It did. To me, again, the positive outweighs the negative.
This season also served as a showcase for Cameron Heyward along that defensive front — and perhaps an appetizer of things to come — as he regularly made plays and controlled the scrimmage line like no one has been able to do on that edge since Aaron Smith called it quits.
No loss to Baltimore in the playoffs can derail the excitement from this view that I have in wanting to see Heyward’s career advance from here. He was phenomenal this season.
So you can have this off-season filled with thoughts about how Mike Mitchell was awful (he was) and what’s going to happen in the future for guys like Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller and Ike Taylor. You can fill your head with how linebackers Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones haven’t performed anywhere near the level of what was expected of them to this point in their careers.
All those views and observations are more than fair.
I’m going to look at 2014 not for a loss to Baltimore in early-January, but instead for a season where a team was 3-3, pretty much left for dead and goes into 2015 with some big-time things to look forward to.
You May Also Be Interested In These Latest Sports Stories
Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter