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Thursday's 60-second rant: Recalling the Steelers' last 0-2 start

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Posted Sept. 13, 2012 @ 7:41 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Steelers haven’t started 0-2 since the 2002 season, the first year of the AFC North. Pittsburgh ran into Tom Brady- and Rich Gannon-led offenses to begin the season and ended up on the wrong side of the score.

In the Steelers’ next game, they trailed Cleveland in the fourth quarter when head coach Bill Cowher benched Kordell Stewart for Tommy Maddox, who engineered the game-tying TD drive. In overtime, the Browns missed a game-winning field-goal attempt, and the Steelers — after having one such attempt blocked, then recovering it and getting another shot — knocked home one to win. The Steelers had avoided an 0-3 mark, and they would soon find their way.

The 2002 Steelers were not a great team by any stretch, but they had a potent offense and they proved best in a down year for the division. The Browns, who were their top competition, actually made the playoffs on the strength of six road wins in eight games. The Ravens, rebuilding in part because of salary-cap woes, played hard — this was one of Brian Billick’s best coaching jobs, I contend — but they won only seven games. The Bengals, meanwhile, were a laughingstock, the worst team in the league at 2-14.

I’ve been thinking about 2002 for numerous reasons. For starters, I just reached 10 years with Pro Football Weekly, so, as I enjoy the present and eagerly await the future, the past also has been on my mind. So, when the Steelers lost in Week One, I immediately thought of that ’02 team working to dig out of that early hole.

For his part, LaMarr Woodley doesn’t believe the Steelers won’t be two games under .500 after Sunday’s game vs. the Jets, telling reporters as much. I don’t disagree with Woodley’s sentiment — the Steelers seem more likely to win than lose Sunday — and I like his confidence.

However, I don’t believe the Steelers will have it easy against the Jets, who played them close in a pair of 2010 meetings. The Jets’ Baltimore roots probably don’t hurt in preparing for the Steelers’ offensive and defensive schemes.

Wait — the Steelers have changed offensive coordinators, you say. Indeed, they have. However, as long as the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, and as long as his passing skills remain sharp, stopping Roethlisberger from succeeding under duress will be the key to coping with Pittsburgh.

The Broncos played quite well vs. Roethlisberger in Week One, sacking him five times. Overall, Roethlisberger completed just 22-of-40 passes for 245 yards. He threw two TD passes, but another potential score was tipped away by CB Tracy Porter, who later authored the game-deciding play when he picked off Roethlisberger with two minutes left and returned it for a touchdown to secure a 31-19 win.

The 2012 Steelers can be the class of the AFC North. They might even be able to start 0-2 and catch the pack. Such is their talent. However, they scored less points than you would have expected a season ago, and here they were, scoring a pedestrian 19 points in Denver in Week One despite holding the ball for 35:05.

The 2002 Steelers were a fun-but-flawed team, the best of a pretty weak North lot. The 2012 edition would probably win a best-of-7 series with them. However, I suspect the '12 team would probably make it more interesting, more close, than it needed to be. You know these Steelers are good, but you never know with them sometimes, if you know what I mean.

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