Steelers forgot about Mendenhall late
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall accounted for 116 yards combined rushing and receiving yesterday.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Remember when it was fashionable to trash Rashard Mendenhall, to snark on his fumbling, riff on his evident indecision, bewail his questionable status as a force for good on an offense laced with All-Pros and Super Bowl MVPs?
Well there's good news: RasharMendenhall's progression might have made him the best player on the field yesterday. Too bad the rest of the organization blew past him in the opposite direction.
Losing to the Kansas City Chiefs probably isn't the worst thing you can do in this league, but its degree of difficulty might suggest otherwise. Until yesterday, you should note, the Chiefs hadn't won twice in a row in more than two years.
"That is not us; it won't be us, but it was us today," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a postgame, fast-distilling a 27-24 overtime loss into an audio edition of US Magazine.
The head coach forcefully accepted full responsibility for the Steelers' second loss in eight days, but it was intriguing that some of the uniformed personnel seemed to indicate general support for that assessment.
"The coaches have to put us in a better position," said Hines Ward, as tenured a Steelers player as you can find and a man who had just wasted a 10-catch, 128-yard performance. "All of us have to look in the mirror, but we're all in this together; the coaches have to evaluate themselves as much was we do."
The first thing Tomlin and his offensive staff have to ask themselves is whether they trust Mendenhall to win a game for them, because even though he nearly had done exactly that without authorization in 60 minutes of 600 Steelers mistakes, they still utilized him in the overtime like he was Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Mind you, there would have been no overtime without Mendenhall.
Without Mendenhall, the Steelers lose in regulation.
It was Mendenhall, lest anyone forget, who had the cardio and the will to gallop more than 100 yards to chase down Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker at the Steelers' 8 late in the third quarter. Studebaker, making his first career start, had taken off on a coast-to-coast flight with a misdirected Ben Roethlisberger pass he had collected 2 yards deep in his own end zone. Mendenhall turned a certain touchdown into a Chiefs field goal, keeping the score tied at that point, then beat the coverage on a quick post to pull in an 8-yard touchdown pass that put the Steelers back on top, 24-17, with 8:35 remaining.
The blown coverages in the Steelers' secondary, part of a systems-wide breakdown from one end of this Missouri lawn to the other, resulted in a tying touchdown less than four minutes later. But in a game when Mendenhall would account for 116 yards rushing and receiving, the Steelers ran exactly one play for him over two possessions in the final 4:54.
"I felt like we had a good balance between running and passing," Mendenhall said diplomatically.
The imbalanced balance yesterday was 42 passes, 29 runs. The Steelers haven't had a rushing touchdown since Oct. 19, but it looked suspiciously like they were capable of one in the overtime. Mendenhall got 7 yards on a first-and-10, 7 yards on the next first-and-10, then 8 on second-and-10 to the Kansas City 35.
But on third-and-2, or just one first down from a winning field goal, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians sent Mewelde Moore wide right on a toss play. A stampede of red shirts put Moore on the grass for a loss of 3, leaving Tomlin no choice but to punt.
"I guess if they go zero -- and all-out blitz, we might have been able to pop one outside on them," said Charlie Batch, suddenly in the game after Roethlisberger took a knee to the head from linebacker Derrick Johnson. "But they didn't."
"We tried to get a perimeter run there," Tomlin said. "We were at the outer edge of field-goal range."
"I guess we thought we could catch them in something," Ward said. "I cracked down on the end, but it didn't work. If you run something else and it doesn't work, maybe it's fourth-and-1 and you give us a chance. But when you lose 3 yards, you have no choice but to punt. The play call is what it is; we have to execute it."
Four plays later, Chiefs wideout Chris Chambers took a short Matt Cassel pass 61 yards through a fractured Steelers secondary to the spot of the winning field goal.
That the Steelers lost on the road for the third time this year (more than all of last year) is one thing, but that they lost to a team that is 90 percent talent-free speaks poorly of their pridefulness.
"We'll get it corrected, whatever it is," shrugged nose tackle Casey Hampton. "We can still win 12 games, so it don't matter. Twelve will get you in [to the playoffs]."
I don't know if playing 'em six at a time will be very productive, but being a little more trustful of No. 34 certainly ought to be.
First Published November 23, 2009 12:00 am