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The Steelers need to show up big against the Browns on MNF

“Looks like they’re headed for another bad start before rallying to finish 9-8.”

That was what I texted my buddy on Monday after he sent me the news that Cam Heyward would miss up to eight weeks with a groin injury that would require surgery. Heyward news was coming at us about as fast as the updates on receiver Diontae Johnson, who appeared to suffer a serious hamstring injury against the 49ers in Week 1.

Johnson is now expected to miss up to four weeks with said hamstring injury.

The injury news came in waves in the aftermath of the tsunami of a 49ers squad that flooded Acrisure Stadium on Sunday and left behind a 30-7 tragedy that shocked and devastated everyone associated with the organization.

A bit dramatic? Maybe, but it’s fair to say folks were disappointed in the Steelers’ dud of a 2023 regular-season debut. The fans looked forward to the Week 1 home opener for weeks and months. They wanted to believe Pittsburgh had turned the corner with a young roster–including a young second-year quarterback–and was about to make the jump from a fringe playoff team to a playoff contender with a chance to actually make noise in January.

Sunday’s results gave fans a reason to believe nothing of the sort. If we’re to conclude anything from Week 1, it’s that the Steelers are about as far away from contending as they’ve ever been.

I really hope that’s not true, and this is why the Steelers need to come out against the Browns at Acrisure Stadium on Monday Night Football and put on a complete and impressive Week 2 performance against a hated division rival.

Let me repeat part of that last paragraph: A complete and impressive Week 2 performance against a hated division rival.

When was the last time you walked away from a Steelers game thinking, “Hmmm, maybe this team has something”? It’s honestly been years since I thought those kinds of things about anything the team had just done on a football field.

Maybe in 2020 when the Steelers jumped out to an 11-0 start. But while I wanted to believe the 2020 team was something special, I was constantly hearing from Pittsburgh’s detractors that it was the worst 5-0 team ever, the worst 6-0 team ever, the worst 8-0 team ever, etc., etc.

The way the Steelers went downhill at the end of that campaign obviously validated what outside forces and critics had been saying all along.

What the Steelers were doing three years ago was fool’s gold. It was nothing but smoke and mirrors. What we’ve seen from this franchise over the past two seasons hasn’t been fool’s gold or smoke and mirrors. It’s mostly been bad. It’s largely been inferior.

We had reasons to believe things would change in 2023.

Speaking of fool’s gold and/or smoke and mirrors, there are many experts who say that Week 1 of most NFL seasons is the biggest lie of them all. What you see in the annual lid-lifter is usually not an indication of who will be what as the year progresses.

I really want to believe that. I want to think that Pittsburgh simply ran into a buzzsaw of a contender in San Francisco and likely won’t face a team with nearly as much talent the rest of the way.

How good is Pittsburgh’s Week 2 opponent?

The Browns dismantled the Bengals 24-3 at FirstEnergy Stadium last Sunday. Joe Burrow, he of the new five-year, $275 million contract extension, completed 14 of 31 passes for a paltry 82 yards.

The Browns didn’t look totally dominant, but their defense sure did, especially their cornerbacks–including Denzel Ward. You know who Myles Garrett is and what he can do to a left and/or right tackle on any given Sunday (or Monday).

In addition to a capable defense, Cleveland clearly has plenty of firepower on offense. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, for all of his faults, has been and can still be dangerous. Nick Chubb is probably the best running back on the planet at the moment. The Browns’ passing targets aren’t too shabby either.

The Browns will be an impressive entity on Monday night, which is probably why they’re slight favorites to win the game.

When was the last time anyone described the Steelers the way I just did when talking about Cleveland’s array of talent on both sides of the ball?

Sure, we do it all the time in the offseason. “You put this guy next to that guy and line him up in this package, and who’s going to stop them?”

It’s been a good while since the Steelers justified any such offseason bravado. It’s time they give their fans something to be proud of. It’s time they give their faithful a reason to believe in their product.

Yes, the injuries to Heyward and Johnson don’t help, but every team deals with them throughout the season.

Find a way, Steelers.

You need to show everyone that your future is much brighter than it currently looks.

That has to begin with a beatdown of the Browns–total dominance on both sides of the ball–on Monday night at Acrisure Stadium.

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