Before anything else is typed, I must admit something no viewer of this hotly contested AFC classic between Pittsburgh and New England ever thought they'd experience: this was a game between two mediocre football teams. Coaching was mediocre, quarterback play was surprisingly average, defense wasn't spectacular, and each offense was missing its usual spark.
Normally, after watching a Steelers-Pats game in December, I come away thinking about the winner being the proverbial "team to beat" in the AFC, and the other right behind. After Edelman's final drop of the evening on the last play of the game (he had two big ones prior), I did not make any overarching assumptions other than that both teams are a level below the upper echelon of the National Football League.
As of now, neither team is projected to earn a first round bye, which would mark the first year since 2009 that one of the two did not receive a bye in the playoffs.
Is this finally the end of the Belichick-Brady administration? Perhaps it just might be. Brady, not to sound cliche, looked 41 on Sunday. His abrasive pocket steadiness disappeared as he was constantly fidgeting away from pass-rushers who weren't even there. He looked scared to get hit. Who can blame him at this point? The tide of the Tom vs. Time war looks to finally be shifting towards Father Time.
Belichick hasn't been the shrewd, smart-as-a-fox gamesman as we're used to in these past few weeks either. After allowing a Miami team with no real offensive playmakers and a one-legged QB score 34 points, and then following that up by letting Pitt's 3rd and 4th string backs decimate the Pats' front seven, the tedious Bill has missed his mark two straight weeks.
For Big Ben and the victorious Steelers, the win was a necessity after losing back-to-back games against the Chargers and Raiders (are you kidding me?). But for the Steelers to make any kind of dent in the AFC Playoffs, they'll need vintage Roethlisberger, who continued to miss open receivers again on Sunday.
Heading into the final weeks of the season, the AFC's usual suspects are in a mud fight for the 3 and 4 seeds. Pittsburgh and New England both need massive improvements before the beginning of the postseason, or they'll be watching Pat Mahomes' signature smirk as he accepts the AFC championship trophy.