Steelers: Some losses destined to haunt a team
Nov. 22, 2009 - Ben Rothelisberger is injured during the Steelers loss to the Chiefs.
Oct. 29, 2006 -- Chris Carr returns a Ben Roethlisberger interception 100 yards for a touchdown and a 20-6 Oakland lead with 5:28 to play in the game. The 1-5 Raiders go on to beat the Steelers, 20-13.
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It was bad enough when Jay Cutler, who had thrown four interceptions a week earlier, brought the Chicago Bears back from a seven -point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 17-14 victory in Week 2. Or when the Cincinnati Bengals, who had been dominated for nearly 3 1/2 quarters, scored 14 points in the final nine minutes to end what had been a seven-year losing streak to the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
But it is an entirely different matter when the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that had won just four of its previous 34 games, came back from a 17-7 second-half deficit to beat the Steelers in overtime -- a defeat so paralyzing that it conjured memories of a 2002 loss to the expansion Houston Texans and a 2006 loss in Oakland to a Raiders team that never won another game that season.
Those were defeats that ultimately derailed Steelers seasons, costing them a first-round bye in one instance and a playoff spot in the other. And they were defeats that, since the start of the decade, rank as the most distasteful during the regular season, right up there with what happened seven days ago in Arrowhead Stadium, a loss that ranks as the worst of the Mike Tomlin era.
"This one was miserable," said safety Ryan Clark, one of the culprits in the 27-24 overtime defeat that, among many other things, cost the Steelers a chance to tie for the lead in the AFC North. "For me, personally, it was miserable because I feel like I had a hand in this loss.
"When you ring up 500 yards offense, when you keep an offense bogged down, you expect to win. And we prepared that way. Going in, we expected to win and we prepared that way. To come off a week when you lose to Kansas City, a team you expect to beat, and everybody in the division loses and you don't gain on Cincinnati or Baltimore and you keep yourself in that same place, it's disappointing."
The Steelers (6-4) are not alone in their misery. The Ravens (5-5), whom they will play at 8:20 p.m. tonight at M&T Bank Stadium, are toting their own personal baggage, having lost four of five games by a combined 13 points. The latest was a 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which the Ravens appeared to be driving for the winning field goal until quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception from the Colts' 14 with less than three minutes remaining.
OK, the unbeaten Colts are certainly not to be compared to the Chiefs. Losing to them may not be acceptable, or even palatable, but at least it is understandable.
Nonetheless, the continuing spate of maddening losses has put the Ravens in a tenuous position, teetering, perhaps, on the edge of playoff extinction heading into the first of two meetings with the Steelers, who won all three games last season, including the AFC Championship at Heinz Field.
"We felt like we were a couple of plays away from having a big victory and what a difference just one or two of those would make in the record," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "Our guys do a good job. They are very tough, very resilient. They come back every week and just keep competing and hopefully we can improve through all of that."
But, heavens to Dr. Phil, how many close losses can they keep enduring?
Even those losses to the Steelers have conspired to test the mental fortitude of the Ravens. All three were by a combined 16 points and each was decided, in order, by a Jeff Reed field goal in overtime, a debated touchdown pass in the end zone by Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds remaining and an interception return for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu in the fourth quarter.
"We've had a lot of close games and we haven't been coming out on the good side of it," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who did not fare well in the final two meetings against the Steelers last season, throwing five interceptions and posting a combined passer rating of 17.1. "But, at the same time, we still have six games left in the regular season to decide our fate and these types of games are going to help us down the stretch. We're a tough team and we've been through some stuff and I think this is going to help us down the stretch when we need it."
Indeed, the Ravens' five losses -- Cincinnati twice, New England, Minnesota and Indianapolis -- are to teams with a combined record of 33-7. Conversely, the Steelers' four losses are to teams with a combined record of 14-16. But they are the only team to beat Minnesota.
Game: Steelers (6-4) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5).
When: 8:20 p.m.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).
Make no mistake, some losses are tougher than others.
"There are going to be some games in the NFL, you don't know who's going to win, like going into this game," Clark said. "It's tough to say Baltimore is going to win or Pittsburgh is going to win. You have to let it play out. But I think people expected us to go into Kansas City and win that football game. I'm going to say I did. In the NFL, you need to win the games you're supposed to win and toss up the rest of them and try to win as many as you can."
Invariably, though, losses such as the one in Kansas City can come back to bite a team in the end, as the Steelers are so painfully aware.
There have been other troubling defeats this decade, upset losses that carried punitive consequences that were never really felt until weeks, even months, after the embarrassing episode.
• In 2002, the Steelers lost at home Dec. 8 to the expansion Houston Texans, 24-6, an astonishing loss that had nothing to do with the Texans' 3-9 record at the time. The Steelers outgained their opponent, 422 yards to 47, but lost when Tommy Maddox had two interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns. "That game was difficult for us because we couldn't believe we lost that game," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. Even though the Steelers won their final three games and made the playoffs with a 10-5-1 record, the defeat cost the Steelers a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional playoff round. Instead, they had to travel to Tennessee and lost to the Titans in overtime, 34-31, when kicker Joe Nedney got a second chance at the winning field goal.
• In 2006, the Steelers lost Oct. 29 in Oakland, 20-13, when Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. The Raiders finished 2-14 that season and never won another game after beating the Steelers, who finished 8-8. The defeat cost the Steelers a wild-card playoff spot to the 9-7 Kansas City Chiefs, whom they had beaten, 45-7, that season. "That was THE worst," Clark said.
"Losses like that are hard to get rid of anytime you look at a game you dominated and still lost the game," safety Tyrone Carter said. "You got to be winning in November and December and start that momentum into the playoffs right now. Man, we just lost two games that we shouldn't have lost, but that's how it goes.
"You have to get back into the game and get your mind back on it because, at the end, where you will be is no playoffs, no nothing, pack your bags and go home."
It remains to be seen how the loss to the Chiefs, who were 11-point underdogs, will impact this season.
Already, it has allowed teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4), who haven't beaten a team with the winning record, and the Denver Broncos (7-4), who had lost four in a row until their Thanksgiving Day victory against the New York Giants, to suddenly become involved in a playoff race with the Steelers.
But it will also present Tomlin a challenge he has yet to encounter during his 21/2-year tenure as Steelers coach: Getting his team righted after a disturbing loss and putting them back on course for the postseason.
His ability to do so -- or not -- will further define what has been, to this point, an impeccable shine on his resume. To date, his biggest obstacle occurred his rookie season when, after the Steelers lost three of their final four regular-season games, they lost a wild-card playoff game at home against Jacksonville.
That Tomlin's first step on the therapeutic road back is against the Ravens, the team's most bitter rival, only adds to the intrigue. In his brief career Tomlin is 4-1 against the Ravens.
"When you look at that game, I still can't believe it," said right tackle Willie Colon, who got beat by Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali on the play when Ben Roethlisberger was hit and intercepted in the end zone. "I sat there and I was like, I could not even believe we lost. You got to finish games. That's been the story lately -- we're not finishing games and it's coming back to bite us. If Sunday doesn't teach us a lesson, I don't know what will."
History, it appears, has not always been a valuable teaching tool.
First Published November 29, 2009 12:00 am