Ron Cook: Steelers have no one to blame but themselves for latest predicament
January 3, 2016 12:00 AM
The Josh Scobee-fueled loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field may prove more haunting than the one a week ago in Baltimore.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The win against the Arizona Cardinals seems like a million years ago. So do the wins against the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, significant parts of a 5-1 run that made the Steelers a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The wins became distant memories a week ago when the Steelers fell hard in Baltimore against the Ravens. Now they need help today to even make the playoffs.
Who saw this coming?
“We’re capable of more,” guard David DeCastro was saying the other day. “Everybody knows that.”
Just a few weeks ago, when the New England Patriots stumbled with two losses in a row, the Steelers were considered by many to be the team to beat in the AFC despite the early-season injury losses of Shaun Suisham, Maurkice Pouncey, Kelvin Beachum and Le’Veon Bell and the suspensions of Bell and Martavis Bryant. They were getting hot at the right time, their wins against the Indianapolis Colts and the playoff-bound Bengals and Broncos coming on consecutive weeks to start December. Their offense, led by Pro Bowlers Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and DeCastro, looked to be unstoppable. Their defense, though ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass, was forcing turnovers in bunches, three against both the Colts and Bengals, two against the Broncos. They were getting sacks, a total of 10 in the three wins.
It’s no wonder teams didn’t want to play the Steelers in January.
Now look at ’em.
The Steelers need to beat the Browns today in Cleveland and for the New York Jets to lose to the Bills in Buffalo to get the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.
Anything less and the Steelers will share something with the hapless Browns — an early start to a miserable offseason.
“We didn’t want to be that team and say, ‘Hey, look at us. Look at what we have over here and have over there,’ and not go to the show,” guard Ramon Foster said.
If it happens that way, the Steelers will have only themselves to blame. The 20-17 loss in Baltimore hurts the most because the wound still is fresh and deep. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions against a defense that had just four all season. The Steelers defense made quarterback Ryan Mallett, signed just 12 days earlier by the Ravens, look like Joe Flacco. The Steelers were 11½-point favorites. It was the worst upset loss under Mike Tomlin.
But there were other defeats that were just as hurtful.
You can live with the 28-21 loss Sept. 10 to the Patriots and the 23-13 loss Oct. 25 at Kansas City. The Patriots were much the better team at that point and the Steelers played the Chiefs without an injured Roethlisberger.
But the 23-20 overtime loss Oct. 1 to the Ravens at Heinz Field? Brown dropped what should have been a touchdown pass, Josh Scobee missed field-goal tries from 49 and 41 yards in the fourth quarter, and Mike Vick, in for an injured Roethlisberger, couldn’t convert a couple of fourth downs in overtime. The Steelers blew a 20-7 third-quarter lead.
The 16-10 loss Nov. 1 to the Bengals at Heinz Field? Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in his first game back after missing four with his knee injury. Bryant, who has seven dropped passes to rank high on that troubling NFL list, dropped what should have been a touchdown pass. The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 91 yards.
The 39-30 loss Nov. 29 at Seattle? The Steelers tipped off a failed field-goal attempt by sending in quarterback Landry Jones as the holder, maybe the worst play of the season. The defense gave up 19 fourth-quarter points and allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to throw for five touchdowns, the final one an 80-yard pass to Doug Baldwin with 2:01 left.
Those defeats will haunt the Steelers in the offseason if they don’t make the playoffs.
“We caused this,” Foster said. “We caused all of it.”
There is nothing worse in sports than a wasted opportunity. The Pirates know all about that. They won 98 games last season and were built to win a World Series but lost the wild-card game to the Chicago Cubs. Who knows when they will have that kind of shot again? Now, the Steelers are on the verge of an even greater failure. A team that believes it is good enough to make a long playoff run could miss the postseason for the third time in four years.
“That [stinks],” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I just hope we get another chance.”
The alternative isn’t pleasant.
Who wants to spend the offseason thinking about what might have been?
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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