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The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants have won four of the last eight Super Bowls, and they've been two of the NFL's most successful and consistent franchises of this generation. Right now, however, they are two hot messes -- atypically winless teams in serious trouble with a quarter of the season gone. To be clear, an 0-4 start is a nearly total elimination from the postseason -- only the 1992 San Diego Chargers made the playoffs after such a start.
The Steelers traveled all the way to London for their most recent loss, a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and the best thing that could be said about their performance was that Pittsburgh was at least competitive. Down 34-17 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Steelers made it interesting with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery, and a 28-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. But on a final drive that started with 1:43 remaining, Roethlisberger could not lead his team to a tie. The Steelers traveled 72 yards on 10 plays, but stalled out at the Vikings' six when defensive lineman Everson Griffen pressured Roethlisberger and caused a fumble.
It was no surprise that the Steelers' offense was out of whack -- it's been that way since Todd Haley replaced Bruce Arians as the team's offensive coordinator before the 2012 season. However, that the Vikings torched Dick LeBeau's defense with backup quarterback Matt Cassel at the controls is a far more worrisome thing. Defense has been a Steelers staple for decades, and it's not holding up right now. Receiver Greg Jennings ran through multiple Steelers defenders for a 70-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and Adrian Peterson ran though Pittsburgh's formerly formidable fronts as if they were so much Swiss cheese. Including the preseason, the Steelers have lost 11 of their last 12 contests.
"Right now you could say we're the worst team in the league," Roethlisberger said after the game. "That hurts."
As for the Giants? Things seem even worse, if possible. Tom Coughlin's team was shredded 31-7 by the now 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Many wondered how New York's weak offensive line would deal with the Chiefs' aggressive defense, and the answer was ... not very well. Eli Manning was sacked three times, taking his 2013 total to 14, and he was harassed by the Chiefs throughout the game. Outside of the 69-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the second quarter that provided the team's only score, Manning managed just 148 passing yards on 36 other attempts.
Coughlin called his team's offense a "debacle," and said that "play-calling is like throwing a dart at a board" at this point in time. As it is with the Steelers when they're going well, defense is the hallmark of the recently successful Giants teams, and it was the defense that betrayed them against the Chiefs. Alex Smith threw for three touchdowns, and the Chiefs gained 390 total yards. The Giants did force the first turnovers of the Chiefs' season, but as Coughlin said, "we couldn't do anything with them."
Last time the Steelers lost their first four games was 1968, when they finished 1-13. The Giants last did so in the strike year of 1987, and finished 6-9. Neither team is thinking about the playoffs now -- at this point, it's just about survival. And as you would expect, such circumstances have made Coughlin particularly grumpy.
"Keep trying! What do you mean, where do we go from here?" Coughlin said to one reporter, who had asked what the plan was from here on out. "We go back, we look at the tape, we take a look at the next opponent, we come together, and we try to play it again. We go back to work! What else is there for us to do?"