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Not everyone was ready for season’s kickoff
It didn’t take long for the lockout’s impact to hit home. Where it struck most prominently on the NFL’s opening weekend was a bit stunning.
Four teams, all 2010 division winners, flopped so badly on Sunday it makes you wonder if they realized these games counted. Most notable was how the Pittsburgh Steelers were torn apart in Baltimore. The NFL’s most physical and violent rivalry turned into a tame stroll along the Inner Harbor on a late summer Sunday for the Ravens.
The defending AFC champion Steelers, a group that always comes to play, looked woefully unprepared, their vaunted defense allowing 385 yards, including 170 on the ground. There are some months when the Steel Curtain doesn’t yield that many yards rushing.
“We got beat into submission,” linebacker James Farrior said.
We got handled in all three phases,” added Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “We accept responsibility for the plays we made and didn’t make. We compliment them at the same time for the way they performed. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do.”
A lot of that work didn’t get done during training camp and the preseason, in part because many veteran teams _ and the Steelers certainly have their share of vets _ didn’t want to push such players. Better to save them for the regular season, allowing them to work their way into “football shape.”
But avoiding the pitfalls of preseason games has its drawbacks, too. That manifested itself in Baltimore, where the Steelers couldn’t keep up.
“It was like we were a step slow all day,” Farrior said. “From the first play of the game, they had their foot on the gas pedal and we couldn’t stop it.”
Ditto for the Falcons in Chicago, where the stats were relatively even, but the performances hardly were.
Chicago was the more-inspired team in a 30-12 romp that could have been worse. Anyone who expected Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and John Abraham to be the best players at Soldier Field instead saw Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Brian Urlacher _ especially Urlacher _ take charge.
“We’ve got a lot of things that have to be corrected,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said, noting the high number of penalties, three turnovers and sloppy tackling _ all symptomatic of poor preparation.
“In terms of how we’re going to do that, we’ll get back out there, get on the horse, jump back into the saddle and get back to work.”
Cliches notwithstanding, maybe the Falcons needed to ride the horse more during training camp and the preseason.
The horse struggling the most resides in Indianapolis, which is understandable considering Peyton Manning’s absence after neck surgery. Seeing the Colts lose at Houston wasn’t unprecedented _ they were routed there a year ago, with Manning, and still won the AFC South.
Seeing the Colts manhandled all over the field rather than bonding together without Manning was shocking.
Yes, the Texans finally might be a legitimate playoff contender. Still, it wasn’t as if the folks in Indy didn’t have an inkling that Manning no longer was indestructible. If any team should have had a backup plan, and been prepared for all contingencies come opening kickoff, it was the Colts.
“We had fumbles, sacks, penalties, any way you could shoot yourself in the foot, we did it,” center Jeff Saturday said. “But to be truthful, I don’t think if Peyton was back there it would have been much better…”
Now that truly is frightening for Colts fans.
One team that was ready, willing and able Sunday was Washington, which upset the injury-battered Giants 28-14. Perhaps coach Mike Shanahan had it right after the lockout when he went with his starters in preseason games much more than in the past _ and certainly more than the Redskins’ opponents. Among those opponents: the Steelers and Colts, who essentially mailed in their performances in those exhibition matches.
Not much changed for Pittsburgh and Indy in the season openers, either.
AP Sports Writers Joseph White in Washington and David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this story.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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