• Kovacevic: What if long-dreaded window is actually opening?

    By: Dejan Kovacevic

    Updated:

    PITTSBURGH - "I think we're a little closer to being who we need to be, and that's a team on the rise. Now, it's just got to stay an incline. It's got to keep going up."

    As if one couldn't love James Conner any more.

    He stood at his stall late Saturday night surrounded by cameras and microphones, this after maybe the most nondescript sporting event conducted within city limits in the calendar year -- the Steelers' 17-7 out-slogging of the Chiefs in their second preseason game -- and somehow, within that single sentence, he'd given shape to that big, blah blob we'd all just witnessed.

    Because I'll be damned if he wasn't right: The Steelers just might be a team on the rise.

    Asked what this otherwise meaningless outcome meant for the wide receivers, Washington, visibly emotional, answered: "It means a lot. Coach Drake's watching us right now. He's up there critiquing my game right now."

    It's weird to think of them that way, though, isn't it?

    I mean, how long has it felt like the window was slamming down on the franchise's fingers, forever attached to Ben Roethlisberger's inconsistent commitment to keep playing? Or Antonio Brown's insanity? Or Le'Veon Bell'sidiocy? Or, infinitely more serious, Ryan Shazier's injury?

    Look, not much will matter until the football flies in Foxborough. I get that. But good luck, after what I've seen all summer long, trying to sell me that all of those scripts haven't already flipped in one form or another: Ben now speaks openly of sticking for another three years. AB's frozen feet and Great Gazoo helmets are now the Raiders' headaches. Le'Veon's next rap will challenge him to rhyme 'least' with 'AFC East.' And Shazier, again infinitely more serious, is out on the field again, throwing balls during drills, as he was on this afternoon, and horsing around with his presumed replacement, Devin Bush, as I watched those two having a blast in the locker room much later.

    That's to say nothing of this team, the core of which had been unconscionably maligned for months in the national media, somehow not giving rise to a single negative headline since AB's hot air was ballooned out to the Bay.

    And on top of that, responding as beautifully as they have to the terrible loss of Darryl Drake.

    As James Washington observed after this game, "It was a tough week for us. But we got through it together."

    The wide receivers, he meant specifically. But he could have been speaking for any of them. There were no sides of the ball, no positional cliques in this healing, from what those of us on the outside could see and hear. There were tears, there were hugs, there was Mike Tomlin with this eloquent explanation for bringing in grief counselors -- "It's been said that counseling is not for the weak but for the wise," he'd say in Latrobe -- and there were hands to help up a friend when he was down:

    Asked what this otherwise meaningless outcome meant for the wide receivers, Washington, visibly emotional, answered: "It means a lot. Coach Drake's watching us right now. He's up there critiquing my game right now."


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