Ron Cook: Blunders lead to frustrating 8-8 season for Steelers


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Larry Foote says he isn't going to look back. He won't spend the weekend wondering what might have been for the Steelers as the NFL playoffs begin without them for just the fourth time in 12 seasons.

Why torture himself? What good would it do?

"We are what we are," Foote said.

A mediocre 8-8 team.

"In this league, you either do or you don't," Foote said. "We didn't do enough."

A play here, a play there ...

"If you really look at it, we could be 14-2," James Harrison said.

It's easy to blame injuries for the Steelers' failures. That's always easy. None was more hurtful than Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder/rib injury on the third play of the second half of the Kansas City game Nov. 12. The team was never the same, losing five of its final seven games.

Roethlisberger was never the same, returning Dec. 9 against San Diego and losing three of his final four starts. The offense was never the same.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley wasn't as smart. He received positive reviews before Roethlisberger went down. Now, hardly anyone will care if he gets the Arizona head-coaching job.

But injuries are an excuse for losers. All teams have 'em. Good teams overcome 'em.

The Steelers didn't.

This seems like a good time to bring back something Bill Cowher always said.

"There is a fine line in this business ... "

Between winning and losing.

The Steelers ended up on the wrong side of that line.

"There was rage," Brett Keisel said, describing the team's mood after it was eliminated from the playoff chase with a loss Dec. 23 to the Cincinnati Bengals. "There was definitely frustration. We're used to being good around here. We're used to winning games at the end."

A play here, a play there ...

"It just seems like we found ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win them," Harrison said.

Let us count the ways:

• Heath Miller was called for holding at Denver on the second offensive play of the season. That didn't lead to a 31-19 loss, but it set the tone for a lot of untimely penalties. More than one critic accused Mike Tomlin of coaching an undisciplined team.

• Roethlisberger threw a late interception to the Broncos' Tracy Porter, who returned it 43 yards for the clinching touchdown. Roethlisberger also would throw a killer interception against Dallas and two against Cincinnati late in the season.

• Antonio Brown's fourth-quarter fumble in Oakland territory led to a tying field goal by the Raiders, who went on to win, 34-31. Brown also would lose a huge fourth-quarter fumble against Dallas. What a fall it was for the Steelers' 2011 Most Valuable Player.

• Tennessee blocked a punt by Drew Butler, setting up a touchdown in its 26-23 win. Just as with penalties, special teams were a significant problem all season.

• The defense blew a 23-16 fourth-lead against the Titans, the third consecutive loss in which it couldn't hold a late lead.

• Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned a punt 63 yards for the Ravens' only touchdown in a 13-10 win at Heinz Field. Did someone mention poor special-teams play?

• Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble on the second offensive play in Cleveland, the first of their mind-blowing eight turnovers in a 20-14 loss. He disappeared the rest of the season. Literally for the San Diego game.

• Did it get any lower than the 34-24 home loss against the Chargers? Keisel said the Steelers weren't ready to play. "I don't run away from that," Tomlin said.

• Mike Wallace dropped what could have been an 88-yard touchdown pass against the Chargers. Listen ... you still can hear the boos from the home crowd.

• Jonathan Dwyer was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 at the Steelers 47 against the Chargers before Isaac Redman got nothing on fourth-and-1. Haley was brought in to help the Steelers run the ball better at critical times. So much for that.

• The defense allowed the Chargers to go 78 yards on 17 plays in 9:32 to start the third quarter with a touchdown that gave them a 20-3 lead. "They kept punching us in the stomach, and we never responded," Foote said. "I can't remember taking such a sound beating like that in this building."

• On the second play after the Chargers' long drive, Brown failed to fail on a fumble in the Steelers end zone, leading to another San Diego touchdown. Did someone mention that Brown took a tremendous tumble this season?

• Brown's fumble on a punt return and Roethlisberger's interception on the second play of overtime doomed the Steelers in their 27-24 loss in Dallas.

• Shaun Suisham missed a 24-yard field goal against Cincinnati after a low snap by Greg Warren. The Steelers could have used the points in a 13-10 loss.

• Roethlisberger's first interception against the Bengals was returned 17 yards for a touchdown by Leon Hall and his second to Reggie Nelson on a second-and-5 play from the Steelers 29 with 24 seconds left set up the decisive field goal.

Did someone mention the Steelers fell hard on the wrong side of the line?

"It's frustrating, especially for the older guys," Keisel said. "You don't know how many more opportunities you're going to have. We'll have a new team here next season."

A better team?

"I think we're close," Keisel said. "Maybe some of these guys needed this. Things don't always happen the way you think they're going to happen. You've got to work your tail off in the off-season. You've got to work your tail off in the film room. You've got to come to play every week ...

"We've got to be a lot more consistent to get where we want to go."

You know where that is.

Back in the playoffs, back trying to get to the Super Bowl, back chasing another Lombardi Trophy.

It's not sitting on the couch, watching the Bengals and Ravens play January football.

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Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published January 4, 2013 5:00 AM


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