COLLIER: A 'tall task' awaits short-handed Steelers on Thursday night vs. Patriots
Tom Brady needs 417 completions to surpass Dan Marino for third most in NFL history, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are just hoping he doesn't get all of them Thursday night.
That says more about the Steelers patchwork secondary than about Brady, the winningest quarterback on the contemporary pro landscape.
I didn't say asterisk. I said ostensibly.
Brady and New England Patriots coach Snidely Whiplash and the league and the agents and the lawyers and the courts may all have survived a fiercely problematic summer, but their collective football predicament doesn't really amount to much compared to what the Steelers will be dealing with when they arrive at One Patriots Place, Foxborough.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has referred to it colloquially as "a tall task."
His team opens on the road, in prime time, against the defending Super Bowl champs, with every NFL player and fan and agent and owner and betrayed ballboy looking on, and with all of New England wildly celebrating VG Day, victory over Goodell.
The Steelers walk into this without Le'Veon Bell, without Maurkice Pouncey, without Martavis Bryant, without Shaun Suisham, and without any empirical evidence that they shouldn't be the biggest underdog on the NFL board for Kickoff Weekend.
Which they are (+7).
This is no mere tall task.
This is Manute Bol on an extension ladder.
"At the end of the day, it's about what we're doin', not so much about who they got playin' and what they're doin," said blindside tackle Kelvin Beachum. "All that stuff is in the past; they're still a quality team that we gotta play, and we've gotta go out and play well."
As if that would be enough, right?
You not only have to play well against the Patriots, you've got to know every potential trick in their book, a book that makes "War and Peace" look like a pamphlet. It's why Peyton Manning wouldn't talk strategy in the visiting clubhouse at Gillette Stadium, but would step out into the concourse to get off what he figured was the Belichick surveillance grid, and why wouldn't he?
"Really?" Beachum said when apprised of that story from this summer. "I think we're very careful any time we go into any stadium. It's kind of funny at times, but our coaches always tell us don't be leavin' our game plans around. You never know who will pick them up?"
Funny he should mention that.
Latest revelation: In a story prepared for the ESPN The Magazine, Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham report comprehensively this week on the Patriots' pervasive ethos of skullduggery in a story that includes details of how low level New England operatives routinely swept the visiting locker room during warmups, hoping to come across an opponent's play script, which they just as routinely snatched.
Among other revelations – details on a Belichick vault of illegal videos and notes, including illustrations of Steelers defensive signals all the way back to the 2001 AFC Championship Game, won by the Patriots at Heinz Field.
For the record, the Steelers plan no extraordinary security measures for Thursday night.
"I don't think I'll be saying anything noteworthy," smiled tight end Heath Miller, "so I'm not worried about it."
Based on their performance in the last football game that mattered, the Steelers will have enough trouble putting one foot in front of the other Thursday night. They essentially bombed in their lone playoff game last January, drawing eight penalties for 114 yards against Baltimore while the quarterback threw two picks and chose that day to submit only his fourth sub-80 passer rating of the season.
But you almost sympathize with them.
Their first road game last year cast them right into the furnace of the Ray Rice Knockout fallout in Baltimore, and now they're wedged into this cauldron like a pig on a spit, the main course for a hyperemotional banner celebration.
"You can analyze all that stuff as much as you want," said Miller, "but what matters is what happens when the game kicks off until the game ends. Last year, we didn't play well (losing. 26-6, in front of a crowd littered with Rice jerseys), so our goal is to start off on a better foot this year, play a better game.
"I haven't really paid a whole lot of attention to the whole [Deflategate] thing. I'm not sure a lot of guys in this locker room have given it a lot of thought."
Apparently, the visitors aren't the only ones who haven't been paying a lot of attention, because one of the things Brady said this week when he finally was made available, was "we're facing a really good team."
I wasn't there, but apparently he was talking about the Steelers.
Hey, is this some kind of trick.