This is one of the more interesting, if not bizarre, takes on the upcoming Chiefs-Chargers game, from The Washington Post. Note: I've done some additional research, as suggested by several commenters, and extended this post to describe some ways the situations of the 1989 Steelers and 2011 Chiefs are similar.
"[The] Chiefs [were] outscored 89-10 through two games. The 1989 Steelers that were put together by coach Todd Haley’s father, Dick Haley, started [their] season by getting outscored 92-10, but beat [the] Vikings in Week 3. They went on to finish 9-7 and win [a] playoff game before losing to John Elway’s Broncos."
The amazing thing here is that I kind of thought that we must be off to the worst start in the history of pro football. [Editor's note by Joel: It's the fourth worst start in history.] It turns out it isn't even the worst NFL start endured by the Haley family.
I would gladly accept 9-7 and a playoff win for the 2011 season.
But can history repeat itself? Other than a horrendous start, are the two situations similar, or are we talking apples and oranges?
The 89 Steelers were a young team, in the middle of a rebuild, like the Chiefs.
The Steelers had released their most experienced lineman in the offseason only to have the injury bug hit. Their left tackle had never played the position, and in fact was moved there from guard. In their first two games the running game recorded less than three yards per carry, and the passing game was largely ineffectual. They gave up 12 sacks, 6 in each of their first two games. Given the Steeler's playing style under Coach Noll, having an patchy o-line in disarray must have felt as bad as losing JC.
Their best linebacker, Hinkle, broke his fibula in the second game... but kept playing. They tried to replace him off the waiver wire, but couldn't get it done and settled for a scrub rookie. Not as bad as losing Berry, but pretty bad.
Turnovers bit the Steelers hard with 8 in the first game, 3 returned for touchdowns. They managed to hold onto the rock in their second blowout loss, though. Advantage Steelers.
Penalties killed them. 8 for 70 yards in the first game, and a whopping 13 for 154 yards in the second. Sounds familiar.
Their QB was a journeyman named Bubby Brister. He had a fairly long career, playing for a number of teams, sometimes starting sometimes not, but never finished higher than tenth in a season's QB ratings. Spookily enough, in the first game he threw a pass to himself (batted back, of course) for a loss of ten yards. I couldn't find a stat on how often this occurs, but it must be pretty rare because it is such a boneheaded thing to do. We can note with some small pride that Cassell's pass to himself only cost us four yards. Advantage Chiefs! Bonus Chiefs connection note: Bubby beat out Steve Bono and Blackledge to start that year. Bono went on to be a backup in SF, and didn't do much of anything after. That's all I have to say about that.
The Steeler's terrible start came against the Browns and the Bengals. At first blush, this might seem similar to the Bills and Bengals, but remember this was 1989. The Bengals had not yet become the Bungles, and in fact were the defending AFC champs in 89. The Browns were not even the same team as today's Browns -- the 89 Browns eventually moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. The Bills/Lions are much improved, but you've got to give the Steelers the stronger schedule.
Going into their third game, Coach Noll was on the hot seat, while their opponents, the Vikings, were considered Super Bowl contenders by many.
But the Steelers won. How? They tightened up. They won the turnover battle, and had only 4 penalties for 35 yards. They ran the ball 42 times and completed passes when they needed to - 16 of 22. The defense rose to the occasion, shutting the Vikings down in the second half.
Of course, all of these similarities don't prove anything, except maybe one very big thing: it's possible to turn things around after a start like ours. It's been done before. It can be done again.
A last Chiefs connection note: looking down from the broadcast booth at the Vikings game that turned Pittsburgh's season around was none other than Hank Stram, who was the TV color commentator for the game.