Ben Roethlisberger (7) calls signals at the line of scrimmage in the second half against the New England Patriots on Thursday, in Foxborough, Mass.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Turns out the Steelers were not merely the sacrificial lambs being led to the slaughter. Nor were they the Washington Generals to the New England Patriots' Harlem Globetrotters, a homecoming opponent, on a night when Roger Goodell was nowhere in sight and the defending Super Bowl champions celebrated their fourth Lombardi Trophy at an absolutely electric Gillette Stadium on Thursday night.
Though he did a pretty good job, Tom Brady — the man of the hour, and of the past seven months — didn't beat the Steelers. The Steelers did a pretty good job of that themselves.
In a recurring theme, the Steelers have found the enemy. And it is them.
The Steelers gave themselves ample opportunity to win Thursday night's season opener, to finally beat the great Brady in Foxborough. They probably should have won, too. But they couldn't. And they didn't.
The Patriots' 28-21 win over the Steelers was more Pittsburgh's own doing.
There was new kicker Josh Scobee's two missed field goals, there was Darrius Heyward-Bey's brain cramp in the end zone, there were two highly questionable play calls, one an option pass from Antonio Brown in the first half and a draw to DeAngelo Williams on a crucial third-and-6 as the Steelers attempted to mount a comeback.
And, of course, there was the Steelers' secondary. That one was pretty predictable, wasn't it? If you missed, it was as porous as advertised.
When Antwon Blake and Will Allen started over Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas that should have set off more than a few red flags. Mind you that Cortez Allen and Thomas, two players looking to rebound after rather forgettable 2014 seasons, are supposed to be two players that the Steelers are counting on. On Thursday, they couldn't even be counted on to start. Their replacements, Antwon Blake and Will Allen, fared little better.
The closest thing to dependable the Steelers have on the back end are 30-year-old cornerback Will Gay and the 33-year-old Cortez Allen. The organization once thought so highly of each. They are now both in their second stints in Pittsburgh. The inability to draft and develop defensive backs hasn't quite reached critical mass, not in Week 1, but it's not particularly encouraging.
In the first half, there was some miscommunication, at one point only having 10 players on the field, as the Steelers scrambled to find the right personnel.
"That's on us," said safety Robert Golden. "We've got to be able to execute a little bit better."
The Steelers could not stop Rob Gronkowski, who had two touchdown receptions. They simply had no answer for New England's hulking tight end. Nobody jammed him at the line. Not safeties, not cornerbacks, not linebackers. One his first touchdown, nobody even covered him.
"Gronk made plays," said linebacker Jarvis Jones. "He's one of those special tight ends. He's got a great quarterback to deliver it to him. They did a great job of window dressing, putting him in different places on the field and getting the ball to him."
Gronkowski's fourth-quarter fumble recovery on the goal line, after Mike Mitchell had stripped Dion Lewis of the ball, was just a microcosm of the Steelers' defense's night. The Steelers defense just couldn't win Thursday.
The question now is, can they win with this group going forward.
"They beat us by one touchdown," said defensive end Cam Hewyard. "We've got to live wit it and get ready for the next game. Learn form these mistakes and get ready for the next game."
Indeed, it's just one loss, but it feels bigger, given the opponent and the stage. And, yes, there are 15 more to go.
But on Thursday, Brady and the Patriots didn't beat the Steelers. They beat themselves.