New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) makes a touchdown reception against Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell (23) during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) makes a touchdown reception against Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell (23) during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Steelers season came to a wrap in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night with a crashing thud. After riding a seven game win streak into the playoffs and putting up two more victories in the postseason, the black and gold came into New England riding high. They were being called a team of destiny, the team that could knock of the mighty Patriots, the team that would hoist a seventh Lombardi trophy.

And then, well, reality hit, quickly. The Patriots are more disciplined, more determined and better coached.  That became apparent very early on as Tom Brady carved up the Steeler secondary like a Thanksgiving Day turkey. It also showed once again, that Mike Tomlin is not in the same class as the elite coaches of the NFL. Nobody is Bill Belichick, I get that, but the elite coaches of the league don’t’ get beat down over and over by the same team without at least trying something new.

Since 2007, when Mike Tomlin became the head coach in Pittsburgh, Tom Brady has thrown 22 touchdown passes against his defenses without tossing even one interception. A 22 to 0 TD to INT ratio.

That. Is. Absurd.

How can that be? Well, Tomlin and Dick LeBeau and now Keith Butler refuse to go to a man to man defense, they insist upon playing a zone. What does the zone get you? A Big Fat, embarrassing loss, Tom Brady having 22 touchdowns vs. 0 interceptions,  a guy named Chris Hogan who played LACROSSE at Penn State, catching 9 balls for 180 yards and questions being asked as to why the team won’t make in game adjustments.

Bud Dupree stated after the game that the defense was “surprised” at the Patriots offense.  Surprised?  The only thing surprising is the fact that the team was “Surprised”.  The Houston Texans provided a blue print on how to slow Tom Brady down just the week prior. They didn’t win the game but Brady completed less than 50% of his balls against them as they played a MAN TO MAN defense. So what do the Steelers do? They come out and play zone….again….and lose to New England…again.

After starting 4-5 and finishing 11-5 and garnering a trip to the AFC Championship game, the season could be considered a very successful season but honestly it’s a failure here. This team was supposed to do all that and then some. They fell short.

Now they have to answer the questions.

Why didn’t coach Haley run Big Ben into the end zone on first and goal from the one foot line? If he didn’t get it, do it three more times. I’ll bet your 240 pound quarterback would get it over the goal line at least one of those times vs. having to go backwards and settle for field goals. The game would have been decidedly different had the Steelers punched the ball in there before half, going down 17-13 and getting the ball first in the second half instead of having a demoralizing failure that resulted in a measly three points and an 8 point deficit that felt like 28. Or why on the first series on third and one are they throwing a deep ball to Sammie Coates? A game that features Tom Brady needs to be a clock control game on the offenses part. Get the first downs, move the chains.

Why is Antonio Brown spotted pouting in the game when DeAngelo Williams caught a touchdown because he felt that he should have instead? The team scored, it doesn’t matter who did it.  Or why did he take to Facebook Live again, from a private Jet to say he wasn’t pouting? He’s become a full on diva and the Steelers are over it. His production is off the charts but it’s becoming evident that he’s becoming an irritant to the front office staff and with only one year on his current contract, he could be shown the door very soon. They won’t put up with these kinds of distractions.  His numbers can go over to Martavis Bryant now that he’s coming back and I don’t think the team would miss much of a beat at all.

Why is Big Ben talking retirement? Listen, he won’t retire this off season but the message is clear, his days are numbered and the team needs to stop wasting his good years.  He’s clearly sick of the lack of discipline by both coaches and players, feeling like he has to do it all because he doesn’t have a defense that can ever step up and he’s got a young family that he wants to be around. So yes, he’s sending a message and it’s a big one, he’s ready to see things move forward or he’s done. The Steelers need to heed his warning or pay the price. They also need to think about finding his replacement very, very soon.

All of those questions will need to be figured out in the off season, which started two weeks earlier than they would have liked it to.

But as far as the 2016 season is concerned, that’s a wrap.

Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com– Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at mike@steelnationassociation.com.

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