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Old 10-04-2010, 07:31 AM   #1
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Default Harris: Steelers wanted more than 3-1

Harris: Steelers wanted more than 3-1
By John Harris
Monday, October 4, 2010

The 4-0 pipe dream is dead. Buried in a riddle, wrapped in an enigma and enveloped in a question mark that defined the Steelers' confounding offense.

Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field was as tough a setback as the Steelers will endure this season.

By all rights, the Steelers appeared to have the game won when their defense pulled off a goal-line stand in the final three minutes. However, before the players could pat themselves on the back for a job well done, the game oozed away when former Cincinnati Bengals nemesis T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- of all people -- snagged the game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Flacco.

"The way it ended hurts all the guys,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Until 2:00, 1:45 (remaining), we were sitting 4-0.''

Not that a 3-1 record is a bad consolation prize for a team opening the season without its starting quarterback, who happens to be one of the best players in the NFL.

But why settle for being ordinary when you can dare to be great?

"It talks to the quality of the players we have on our team. We came together,'' Ward said in describing how the Steelers performed in Ben Roethlisberger's absence. "Yeah, we're 3-1, but we could easily be 4-0 right now.''

And to think that defensive end Brett Keisel was getting used to the Grizzly Adams look. Keisel promised to wear a beard until the Steelers lost a game. He was preparing for the long haul. Now he needs a shave.

"I don't think we went into this thing going, 'Best-case scenario, we're going to win a few games,' '' Keisel said. "This is a great team game. It takes a team to win and a team to lose.''

If only Jeff Reed had made those two field goals in the third quarter after the defense created turnovers in prime scoring position ...

If only the Steelers offense didn't keep committing killer penalties near its goal line late in the game ...

If only the Steelers had opened up the offense instead of sticking exclusively with the run when a first down would have virtually guaranteed a win in the final quarter...

If only the Steelers had rushed more than two defensive linemen when Baltimore had the ball late ...

It was a frustrating game of "what if'' for the Steelers, who were less than 180 seconds away from taking a two-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North. To their credit, the Steelers, who benefited from two fortuitous touchdown passes from Charlie Batch to Mike Wallace in last week's win at Tampa Bay, didn't make excuses yesterday.

"We don't like the outcome, but we had a lot to do with that,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We didn't make enough plays to win. We didn't play smart enough.''

The Batch-to-Wallace connection fizzled against the Ravens. Wallace had two receptions for 24 yards, gained 1-yard on a reverse and was basically shut down by young cornerback Lardarius Webb and a secondary minus playmaking safety Ed Reed.

Batch finished with a 57.8 passer rating.

"It's on us,'' Wallace said. "The offense has to move the ball. The defense is giving us the ball on a short field. We have to get some points out of it.''

The Steelers amassed 210 total yards. Which doesn't sound like much until you check the numbers from the Tennessee win two weeks ago. In that game, the Steelers posted 127 total yards.

Yet, somehow, the Steelers were on the verge of 4-0.

Only yesterday, the defense couldn't prevent Baltimore from scoring two touchdowns after yielding a total of two touchdowns through the first three games.

Based on their track record, the Steelers defenders believed they could stop Baltimore even after a holding penalty during Daniel Sepulveda's punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers 40 with 1:08 to play.

"We feel that regardless of where they get the ball, it shouldn't matter,'' said cornerback Ike Taylor, who intercepted Flacco in the third quarter. "We feel like we can always come through.''

Only this time, the Steelers defenders blinked when their offense went south, and 4-0 became a cruel afterthought.

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