View Full Version : Uncharacteristic play dooms Steelers

12-20-2010, 06:00 AM
Uncharacteristic play dooms Steelers
By John Harris
Monday, December 20, 2010

The Steelers are better and smarter than this. Just because they escaped with close wins against Buffalo and Baltimore doesn't mean they can live dangerously every week. But that's exactly what occurred in Sunday's 22-17 loss to the New York Jets at Heinz Field.

The Steelers tried their best to give the game away early. They trailed, 7-0, when Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, recalling the image of Jamal Charles returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown in a stunning loss at Kansas City last season.

The Steelers committed costly penalties that extended New York drives, including safety Ryan Clark being flagged for unnecessary roughness in the third quarter for making a tackle while leading with his helmet. With Braylon Edwards' 15-yard reception, the flag became a 30-yard penalty that led to the tying touchdown.

The Steelers rallied and claimed the lead against a desperate and talented opponent -- only to give it away at the end.

New York defensive end Jason Taylor split left tackle Jonathan Scott and left guard Chris Kemoeatu and dropped running back Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety with 2:45 to play. However, not only did the Steelers defense hold the Jets without a first down following the ensuing punt and possession, it did so quickly enough that the offense got the ball back 37 seconds later.

Plenty of time for the Steelers to create another miracle.

Didn't Troy Polamalu gift-wrap an improbable victory at Baltimore two weeks earlier with his clutch sack that led to linebacker LaMarr Woodley's fumble recovery and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's game-winning touchdown pass? And didn't Roethlisberger bullwhip the offense downfield in last night's final drive to set up first down at the Jets' 10 with nine seconds remaining?

You could tell things weren't going the Steelers' way when tight end Matt Spaeth, who was filling in for Heath Miller, got in the way of Roethlisberger's pass for rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders on second down that would have won the game.

On the official play-by-play sheet, the play in question reads: B. Roethlisberger pass incomplete short middle to E. Sanders. But the play was just another painful example of how the Steelers lost.

"Yeah, it was intended for me,'' said Sanders, who was put in a critical situation with a backup tight end with the game on the line. "I was real surprised. I was (thinking I had) the game-winning touchdown.''

Quite simply, the Steelers weren't themselves against the Jets.

Whether it was the defense attempting to win without the injured Polamalu, or the offense scoring as many touchdowns against the Jets as it scored the previous three games, the Steelers played like a team with something to prove.

The result?

Never have so many worked so hard to produce so little.

While former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes bowed for angry fans on his way to the visitors' locker room, the Steelers attempted to make sense of a loss that should have been a win.

"We lost this game together as a group,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We didn't come through when we needed to come through.''

Ward's analysis goes against everything the Steelers have stood for this season.

The Steelers kept waiting for something good to happen. They led, 17-10, in the third quarter but couldn't hold the lead.

When it appeared the offense was moving toward another score, right tackle Flozell Adams was called for unnecessary roughness after receiver Mike Wallace's 17-yard reception produced a first down at the Steelers' 46.

Instead, the Steelers faced first down at their 31.

Three plays later, they punted.

The Steelers are better and smarter than they played yesterday.

All four of their losses have come against playoff teams: New England, Baltimore, New Orleans and the Jets. It was unusual to watch the Steelers make mental mistakes against the Jets that weren't present during their four-game winning streak.

"All we needed was one play in the second half,'' Clark said.

Unfortunately, that play never came.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.