Kovacevic: Was Tomlin living in fears? Or outright terror?


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The Patriots react after stopping Donte Moncrief on fourth down Sunday night in Foxborough. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Donte Moncrief whisked the windbreaker over his head faster than he'd run any route all Sunday night. The hood was up, too. Phone in one hand, travel bag in the other.

And no, wise guy, he didn't drop either.

At least not that I'd witnessed on his slow walk to the team bus, where, yes, he was still somehow allowed to board after the Steelers' stomach-turning 33-3 season-opening loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, one in which he'd been targeted 10 times by Ben Roethlisberger for a total of three catches and 7 yards.

A half-dozen drops.

Dear God, I really typed that. Heck, it really happened:

I mean, poor Limas Sweed remains synonymous with drops among the Nation, a decade after committing fewer drops in his cameo NFL career than Moncrief did in these three hours.

And yeah, I did catch up with him at his stall -- heck, everyone was able to catch up with him on the field -- to ask about it:

At least he didn't drop the ball in terms of accountability. He did reply with the general "we" as if a whole bunch of people had been equally butter-fingered, saying, "We just weren't on the same page tonight. We've got to get the timing down." But he did stand there for a few more minutes, too, patiently fielding variations of that same question.

Besides, I'm not here to single out anyone, much less scapegoat. Of the 46 players the Steelers suited up, all 45 of them not named T.J. Watt ranked somewhere between abysmal and below-average, from this press box perspective.

As Cam Heyward worded it, "There were a lot of mistakes, and that falls on us. We didn't execute well. And when you do that versus a Super Bowl-winning team, that performance isn't good enough."

Nope. Not close.

So I'm isolating on Moncrief for a very different reason. It's not just that he didn't come back for the football. It's not that his hands went soft-tissue when it arrived. It's not that, even though Bill Belichick left him wide open by artistic design, he couldn't carve out open space with any conviction.

No, it's because this was the highest level of artistic design by Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner to try to produce the Steelers' first points of the evening after conceding the first 20:

Fade to Moncrief.

A flipping Plax-style fade to Moncrief, who'd put forth four drops on his first five targets to that point and, on this one, ran toward the pylon when Roethlisberger needed him to turn toward the sideline. And yet, in this moment, with the team in dire need of six points, he was the choice again ... because Belichick had decided to take away the other options.

That, my friends, is how a team, from the head coach down, behaves when it's afraid.

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