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One Drive Short

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One of the most effective ways to remember information is by using a method called “chunking;” that is, to organize the information into smaller, more manageable units. It works for recalling phone numbers and, oddly enough, it works for recalling football seasons.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2010 season is best viewed not as a whole, but as a series of chunks, with each chunk painting a different picture of a season in progress.

While chunking is meant to preserve and recall memory, the first “chunk” of the Steelers 2010 campaign is one that fans would much rather forget.

Pittsburgh found itself in the midst of a lengthy offseason thanks to a 9-7 campaign that landed the club squarely outside of the playoffs come January. All the same, the Steelers were a football team that was, at the very least, viewed as a playoff contender going into the 2010 season. Like any squad, Pittsburgh had its flaws in an aging defensive line and a leaky secondary. However, these were hurdles, not walls. All the team needed was a few tweaks and a quiet offseason.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the latter never happened.

There was the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, the trade of Santonio Holmes, and the injury to Willie Colon, leaving Pittsburgh with at least three new bodies in the fold when training camp started. Of course, training camp is where rookie Maurkice Pouncey began making the leap from possible contributor to Pro Bowl center.

By the time the Steelers stepped out onto the grass for their first game, they were fielding an offense featuring a number of new faces centered around the team’s third-string quarterback. The defense survived the offseason with no losses and a few gains (notably the return of former starting cornerback Bryant McFadden). And yet for the experts trying to predict the season, Pittsburgh had gone from playoff contender to third or worse in a very competitive AFC North.

When the team snapped the ball for its first play, it signaled the beginning of the second stanza for the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers – the first four games or, more precisely, the four games without Big Ben.

Like the season-long predictions, expectations were low on the outside. A 2-2 start would have seemed like miracle work. There was a very good chance that Roethlisberger night return to a winless team in Week 6.

Instead, the Steelers defense took the NFL by storm, peaking in a seven-turnover performance against the Tennessee Titans. The offense was just good enough and Pittsburgh was a hair away from a perfect 4-0 start.

Expectations for the team changed as it transitioned to its next chunk of the season. If Pittsburgh was this good without Ben, how good could it be with the two-time Super Bowl champion back under center? The team that many picked to be third-place in the division just four weeks earlier was now considered to be one of the best, if not the best, teams in the entire NFL.

But the Steelers proved that they were not yet ready for the title of the NFL’s top team. The third portion of the season spanned a seven-game stretch that saw Pittsburgh suffer more injuries and show some familiar flaws. Left tackle Max Starks and defensive end Aaron Smith both played their last games during the stretch, which also saw star safety Troy Polamalu manifest a few lingering injuries of his own. While the defensive line was holding its own and stopping the run, the secondary was absolutely schooled in losses to New Orleans and New England, whose quarterbacks combined for 655 yards, 5 touchdowns, and a 73% completion rate against just one interception.

Pittsburgh headed into a Week 13 tilt against Baltimore in a must-win scenario if it wanted to take the AFC North, bearing all the same questions that haunted the team through its midseason slump.

Those questions would be put to rest in the fourth chunk of the season, which began with a key victory over the rival Baltimore Ravens. Only a close loss against the Jets broke up a late-season surge which gave Pittsburgh home-field advantage and the distinction of being one of the few teams with a legitimate shot at winning it all in February.

Once again, the Steelers were viewed as a top team – a legitimate contender with a stifling defense and an opportunistic offense, heading into the final chunk of the season.

When the postseason started, the NFL saw flashes of that team. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, the Steelers also showed that it was inconsistent from quarter to quarter and half to half.

A win over Baltimore featured an inept first half followed by utter dominance to close out the game. An AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets featured the same type of dominant performance in the first half before the team appeared the shut down for the final two quarters.

The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers could not string together four solid quarters of football doomed them to a losing cause in Super Bowl XLV. In the game itself, Pittsburgh was lights out in the third quarter and just plain out in the other three.

And yet, even with the inconsistency, the roller-coaster season, the injuries, the off-field troubles, the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers came up just one drive short of a seventh ring.

Just one drive short.

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