Cook: A loss that will sting in December
October 12, 2012
by Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham hangs his head after missing a potential game winning field goal against the Titans last night in Nashville.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Steelers aren't a very good football team.
Can we agree on that this morning?
It's not just their 26-23 loss Thursday night to a really bad Tennessee Titans team. It's not their 2-3 record with all three losses against AFC opponents. It's not their silly penalties, their inability to run the ball or their failure to stop their opponent in the fourth quarter.
It's all of it.
Much of the season remains, 11 games. It is too early to pronounce the Steelers dead. But at this point, they have the look of a .500 club at best, certainly not a playoff-caliber team. They are physically beaten down. But their pride hurts worse, much worse.
"We let Steelers Nation down tonight," guard Willie Colon said. "We let ourselves down. We know we can play so much better than we did."
This loss was on everyone, including coach Mike Tomlin. He gambled that kicker Shaun Suisham could make a 54-yard field goal with 54 seconds left to break a 23-23 tie. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Suisham had made a 52-yarder to give the Steelers a 23-16 lead with 8:18 left. This time, Suisham was short. The Titans took over at their 45 with 49 seconds left and turned the possession into the winning field goal at the gun, a 40-yarder by Rob Bironas.
"I take the responsibility for the miss," Tomlin said.
Good thing. He deserves blame.
But that decision wasn't what beat the Steelers. They made big mistakes in every part of the game. They got what they deserved. It just wouldn't have been right if they had won.
Sure, injuries were a factor. The Steelers defense didn't have safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley coming in. During the game, the offense lost center Maurkice Pouncey, tackle Marcus Gilbert and running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. The offense's injuries surely factored into its inability to run the football. It gained just 56 yards on 22 carries with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, of all people, having the longest run, a 14-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.
But good teams find a way to overcome adversity to win. It is worth saying again: Right now, the Steelers don't even remotely resemble a good team.
There is a bit of positive news, though. The Steelers don't play again until a week from Sunday night against the Bengals in Cincinnati. It's a good thing they have the extra time between games. They have so much to improve.
For the third game in a row, the Steelers defense couldn't protect a fourth-quarter lead. It got stung in Oakland, got away with it against the Philadelphia Eagles at home Sunday when Roethlisberger led a late winning drive and paid a big price Thursday night. It allowed the Titans to go 80 yards in 11 plays for the touchdown that tied the score, 23-23. Then, it couldn't protect that short field at the end.
Awful. Just awful.
"I'm sure the offense is going to say it's not on us, that it's a team game and they should have made more plays," safety Ryan Clark said. "But that's not true. They gave us enough points to win. We just didn't do what we had to do."
This defeat felt even worse than the Oakland loss. The Titans came in with a 1-4 record with each of their losses by at least 21 points. It almost appeared the Steelers tried to keep them in the game with mistakes. They succeeded.
Penalties? The Steelers were the most penalized team-per-game in the NFL coming in and cut down on the number, but cornerback Ike Taylor was called for two big ones. His 25-yard pass interference penalty on the Titans' first possession led to a Tennessee field goal. He then was called for holding on a third-and-10 play at the Steelers 15 late in the game, a penalty that led to the Titans scoring the touchdown that tied the score, 23-23, with 4:19 left. Yet another pass interference call on Taylor didn't count because wide receiver Kenny Britt caught the ball anyway for a 37-yard gain.
To top it off, Taylor was beaten for the 5-yard touchdown pass to Britt that made it 23-23. Taylor played a rotten game.
Special-team blunders? A blocked punt counts, right? The Titans blocked a kick by Drew Butler on the final play of the first quarter, leading to a 1-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 13-10 lead.
Turnovers? The Steelers were moving at the Titans 32 late in the second quarter when Roethlisberger threw an interception to cornerback Jason McCourty. It was Roethlisberger's first interception in 137 passes -- he hadn't had one since late in the Denver game in the season opener -- and it lead to a Titans field goal and 16-10 lead on the final play of the first half.
At that point, you thought it couldn't get worse for the Steelers in the second half. But it did. It got much worse.
"It's tough," Redman said. "We're still winless on the road. Good teams have to win on the road to get where they want to go."
Should I write it one more time?
No, it's not necessary.
I think you know the Steelers aren't a good team.