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|12-07-2009, 09:58 AM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Bires: Steelers face fourth and long
Bires: Steelers face fourth and long
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
Monday December 7, 2009 12:17 AM
Times photo by LUCY SCHALY Jeff Reed looks a little dejected after he misses a field goal.
PITTSBURGH — The Steelers are not officially dead yet. But this much is sure: We can stop calling their defense great. On the contrary, this is a sad sack group of defenders. It’s a once-proud defense that is ruining a season that only four games ago was full of Super Bowl hope.
The low point of the demise came Sunday when the defense allowed the woeful Oakland offense to rally the Raiders to a stunning 27-24 upset win.
“To have been part of that is sad,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Yes, it was a sad state of affairs for the Steelers to have the Raiders light them up for three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
These were the same Raiders who came to Pittsburgh ranked last in the NFL in scoring at 10.5 points per game. Not once this year have the Raiders scored three touchdowns in a game. In their first 11 games, Oakland quarterbacks threw a grand total of five TD passes. Bruce Gradkowski threw three against the Steelers in a span of 8:12.
“No question, it’s embarrassing,” lamented cornerback Ike Taylor, who played one of his worst games.
“As a defense, you want to be dominant,” cornerback Deshea Townsend said. “And the way to be dominant is that when your team needs you to finish, you finish. We are not doing that right now.”
With the exception of an 18-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 15, the defense has failed to finish in five other Steeler losses.
Up until now, the late collapse in the 27-24 overtime loss in Kansas City on Nov. 22 seemed as low as it could get for the Steelers. Then came Sunday’s debacle against the Raiders.
With 8:21 left to play, strong safety Tyrone Carter got beat by wide receiver Chaz Schilens for a 17-yard TD. It was Schilens’ first TD of the season.
With 5:28 to play, wide receiver Louis Murphy scorched Taylor for a 75-yard TD.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense seemingly came to the rescue with an 80-yard, go-ahead drive that ended with Hines Ward’s TD catch with 1:56 left. But that was plenty of time for the Steelers’ defense to collapse again.
It’s almost unimaginable that the defense would allow the Raiders to drive 88 yards — at Heinz Field no less — for the win.
On that last drive, the Raiders moved the first-down chains five times.
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With 35 seconds left, rookie cornerback Joe Burnett dropped a would-be interception that would have effectively ended the Steelers’ three-game losing streak. But Burnett, subbing for injured William Gay (concussion), dropped the pass.
“I read the route. I jumped the route. I did everything right except catch the ball,” Burnett said. “If I make the play, game’s over.”
On the next play, Murphy out-jumped Taylor for a 23-yard gain to the Steelers’ 17-yard line.
“I just didn’t make the play,” Taylor said.
On the next play, Gradkowski threw incomplete. But Ryan Mundy, now playing strong safety instead of Carter, was called for unnecessary roughness for drilling wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins after the whistle blew.
“I’m just trying to make a play for my team,” Mundy said. “I felt I was there in an appropriate amount of time. I’ll look at the tape, but you have to accept the referee’s call and just keep playing.”
Two plays later, Gradkowski hung tough against the pass rush and threw toward Murphy, who got behind Mundy for the game-winning 11-yard TD.
“Miscommunication … we just weren’t on the same page as a secondary,” Mundy explained. “It was kind of like a scramble situation. We had a little miscommunication, a little frenzy in the secondary. It was a little hectic back there.”
That pretty much sums up yet another meltdown by the Steeler defense.
No sacks in the fourth quarter.
Not enough pressure on Gradkowski.
Poor coverage in the secondary.
A dropped interception.
Confusion in the secondary.
No one on defense is taking charge and making a play that mattered.
“As a defense, we’re used to being able to finish games. That’s what’s so sad,” Keisel said.
“Trust me, I lose sleep at night thinking about it. The games we’ve let slip away, I’ve tried to forget about it. But it’s hard.”
It may be a long time before Keisel and the Steelers’ defense forget about their collapse against the Raiders. It’s a collapse that likely ended their playoff hopes.
Mike Bires can be reached at email@example.com
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