Steelers' playoff hopes crumble with loss to Ravens


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It was a game that recalled the classic matchups of years past between the Steelers and Ravens, often with a division title -- and down the road a Super Bowl -- at stake. But this wasn’t quite that. This was Steelers-Ravens 2013, a not-so-classic matchup of two mediocre teams.

The Steelers were the more mediocre of the two.

As a result, the Steelers, 5-7, are not officially out of playoff contention, but the chances of them qualifying for the postseason -- based on their record and their ability -- are slim. When a team opens 0-4 and 2-6, there is almost no margin for error. The Steelers made a big error last night in Baltimore.

In a game that easily could have gone the other way on any number of plays, the Steelers lost to the Ravens, 22-20, for the obvious reason that they failed to convert a game-tying 2-point conversion in the final minute. But there were less obvious reasons than the failure of Emmanuel Sanders to grab a catchable pass from Ben Roethlisberger that would have tied the game.

The largest of those was the Steelers defense, which was not quite good enough to handle what was the No. 29 offense in the NFL. The Ravens had seven possessions that were not concluded by the end of a half, and they scored on six of them.

Baltimore had only one touchdown -- on its first possession of the game. But on five other possessions they drove deep enough into Steelers territory for field goals of 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards.

It was the Steelers' own botched field goal -- one of two crucial special teams blunders -- that dearly hurt them in the second quarter. They had advanced to the Baltimore 32 but stalled there, and Shaun Suisham came on to attempt a 50-yard field goal.

The snap was a bit high, which meant it was placed a fraction of a second later than it should have been by holder Mat McBriar. Which meant when Suisham arrived at the ball it wasn’t there. McBrian, about to be swarmed under, lateraled to Suisham, who was swarmed under.

Baltimore took over on its own 44, and that field position led to the first of Justin Tucker’s five field goals.

But all of that might have been rendered meaningless if Sanders had caught the ball on the 2-point conversion attempt after the Steelers went 80 yards in 13 plays to score a touchdown that put them within two points of the lead. It was not an easy catch. But neither was it especially hard. Color analyst Cris Collinsworth described it as ''catchable,’’ and it was.

The game went bad in multiple places for the Steelers, with one of the more notable ones being a 73-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones in the third quarter. The defense held, but Tucker kicked another one of his field goals -- each of which was the difference in the game.

A bright spot for the Steelers was the play of Le’Veon Bell, who finally broke a big run. He bolted 43 yards on the Steelers' first possession of the second half to set up the team’s first touchdown. He had only 30 yards on his other 15 carries, but he caught seven passes for 63 yards.

Heath Miller was a beast with eight catches for 83 yards.

There were other good performances -- Roethlisberger was not sacked -- but not enough of them.

It’s not that the Steelers are that bad. It’s just that they’re not that good.


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