(AP Photo/Chris Szagola). Philadelphia Eagles' Jordan Hicks (58) hits Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (7) after a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -- Around these parts it’s known simply as the “Body Bag Game.”
That is code for the Philadelphia Eagles' 28-14 win on a Monday Night game 26 years ago, a game played at old Veterans Stadium, a rat-infested, concrete eyesore across the parking lot from where the Eagles now call home.
That night, the Eagles -- a team which featured the great Reggie White and Jerome Brown on defense -- beat and beat up on the helpless Washington Redskins, who had nine players either carted or hobble off with injury.
By that standard, and that standard only, the Steelers’ 34-3 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon wasn’t that bad. Other than that, it was a complete debacle.
The Steelers lost a “mere” six players to injury -- in no particular order, Ryan Shazier, Robert Golden, Lawrence Timmons, Ramon Foster, Eli Rogers and Mike Mitchell -- against an Eagles team that has neither a Reggie White nor Jerome Brown. Still, it was the Steelers' ninth loss in a row at Philadelphia, a stretch dating back to 1965.
The Steelers were dominated on both sides of the ball at Lincoln Financial Field in a loss that goes down as the worst -- at least by margin of defeat -- in Mike Tomlin’s decade-long reign as coach. Keep in mind that Tomlin’s team lost last year in a near must-win Week 16 game to the injury-ravaged Baltimore Ravens that had nothing to play for.
“It was a poor performance by us, but when I say ‘us,’ I mean all of us,” Tomlin said. “It starts with me. They out-coached us, they out-played us.”
This 31-point loss to the Eagles and Carson Wentz, their star rookie QB, was as thorough as it was surprising. Before Sunday, most had the Steelers pegged as the Pennsylvania team most likely to reach Super Bowl 51. Not after this.
Injuries, missed tackles, dropped passes, bad penalties, blocked field goals -- the Steelers were guilty on all accounts.
“Those are all recipes for 34-3,” said linebacker Arthur Moats.
Or as defensive end Cam Heyward put it: "We got our ass kicked. I'll simply say it like that. I got my ass kicked. Everybody got their ass kicked."
Most disappointing was that the Steelers’ offense, believed to be the best in the league, never got untracked after a less-than-inspiring performance a week earlier against Cincinnati. This time, there was no rain.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 257 yards, but he was sacked four times and picked off once (it could have easily been four). His rating was a dismal 62.4. The only consolation for Roethlisberger was that his four sacks were four fewer than his previous trip to Philadelphia in 2008 and that season still ended with a Super Bowl victory.
Antonio Brown had 140 receiving yards, but 85 of them were in the second half when the game was out of reach. The Steelers converted just four of 11 on third down.
“Collectively, we sucked,” Brown said. “We got blown out and couldn’t put up enough points.”
The running game, so effective in the second half in Week 1 and 2, was a moot point after the Steelers found themselves down 20-3 going into the half. DeAngelo Williams ran just eight times, twice in the second half, for 21 yards. The Steelers’ 29 rushing yards were their fewest since they ran for 36 against the Jets in a 2014 loss.
“We kind of had to get out of it pretty quick,” Roethlisberger said. “This is a really good defensive front seven, they have a really good defensive line and they we knew that it was going to be a good test.”
The Steelers started slow in their two previous wins but seemed to reverse that trend when they took the opening drive to the Philadelphia 18. A dropped Markus Wheaton pass in the end zone and a blocked field goal seemed to take the wind from their sails.
“It’s a huge momentum shift for sure,” said guard B.J. Finney, who took over for Foster in the first half. “It’s something you don’t want to have happen. They kind of got the momentum there but we have to do a better job of fighting back. We have to be able to roll with that and do a better job.”
Perhaps that lack of fight is what is most troubling with Sunday’s loss. The Steelers are no stranger to injuries or adversity, but they seemed to have thrived on it in the past. On Sunday, they didn’t.
Suspended running back Le’Veon Bell will return for next week’s prime-time game against Kansas City. It’s hard to think that Bell, or a combination of Walter Payton and Jim Brown, would have been enough for the Steelers on Sunday.
As good as the Steelers are or can be, they clearly have some more work to do and get healthy in the process.
While burning the tape of Sunday’s loss might seem the prudent move, Moats says the Steelers need to watch and learn from it.
“No, there’s always room to get better,” Moats said. “You just have to chew on it. Of course we didn’t want to go out there and have that performance but at the end of the day, it’s just the third game of the season.
“At the end of the day, we’ll look back at it and say, ‘Man, I’m glad that’s over.’”