Troy Polamalu(notes) is as purposeful and direct in his interviews as he is on the football field. When I caught up with the Steelers' superb strong safety as he walked toward the Heinz Field parking lot early Monday morning, he made no attempt to soften the significance of the 39-26 thumping his team had just taken from Tom Brady(notes) and the Patriots.
"It's obviously an incredibly humbling loss," Polamalu said softly – like Mike Tyson, the man's voice is the exact opposite of what you'd expect when you see him perform in his chosen profession. "We found out [Sunday] we're not deserving of being grouped with the elite teams right now."
Two quick reactions: First, I'd like to thank Polamalu for making this week's first-to-worst list of uniquely captivating queries a bit easier; and secondly, I wonder if he's worried that he and his teammates are about to experience another Steeltown Slide.
Last year, remember, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers were 6-2 before a five-game losing streak doomed their postseason hopes and made head coach Mike Tomlin's vow to "unleash hell" a hollow promise.
Given that the 2010 Steelers were 6-2 coming into Sunday night's game, and in light of the degree to which they were dismantled by the Pats, fears that they'll be experiencing an equally horrific encore are understandable. The fact that the Raiders – one of the teams which came to Pittsburgh and won during last year's losing streak – return to Heinz on Sunday stokes the post-traumatic stress as well.
I suspect this year's Steelers will avoid a collapse and grind their way back toward the top shelf they crave, partly because Polamalu, unlike at this time in '09, is healthy enough to lead their defense. Yet I also believe him when he claims that the defeat to the Pats dampened the internal optimism developed during Pittsburgh's impressive first half of the season.
"We're only halfway through – and that's a good thing," he said before leaving the stadium. "We're not on [the Patriots'] level, and we're not world champs yet. We're trying to develop into that."
Will they get there? We'll all have to wait and see. In the meantime, here are three-dozen-minus-four questions to ponder:
5. Baltimore Ravens: Why does Terrell Suggs'(notes) comparison of the Patriots to a certain cheerleader-subterfuge flick make me scream "Bring It On!" when pondering a potential Ravens-Patriots playoff rematch?
6. Pittsburgh Steelers: After getting released on Tuesday, did Jeff Reed(notes) find a nearby Sheetz convenience store and take out his frustrations on a paper-towel machine, just for old times' sake?
10. Indianapolis Colts: If Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz's cruise-ship analogy about the injured Colts was brought to life, and I was one of the passengers who had to subsist on mayonnaise sandwiches, how quickly would I jump overboard?
15. San Diego Chargers: Has a 4-5 team ever been sitting so pretty?
17. Kansas City Chiefs: After last Sunday's postgame beef, how awesome would it be if someone could arrange a charity tag-team wrestling match featuring Todd Haley and mentor Bill Parcells vs. Josh McDaniels and mentor Bill Belichick?
18. Cleveland Browns: If the season were restarted today, don't you get the feeling these guys would push their way into the playoffs?
25. Dallas Cowboys: If Jason Garrett stepped down as the Cowboys' interim coach right now, would he go down as a legend in his profession?