It ended with Lendale White stomping a mudhole in the Terrible Towel.
Over the previous three hours, the Tennessee Titans did something similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers, ending any hopes of a number one overall seed with a devastating 31-14 victory. To call it the worst loss of the season would be a bit of an overstatement. However, to say the game didn’t raise a number of alarms heading into the playoffs would also be a case of looking at the world through Black and Gold colored glasses.
The Steelers played a flat and listless game, showing little of the fire which ignited them to four straight victories over top ranked teams. The first quarter was better suited to Halloween than Christmas as it was one horror after another. First, LB James Harrison was lying on the ground with an injured hip. Then QB Ben Roethlisberger was piledriven on a scramble which resulted in a fumble and backup Byron Leftwich loosening up on the sidelines. Although Ben didn’t miss a snap and Silverback did return to the game later on (even collecting his 16th sack, a new Steeler record), injuries to our star players were not what we needed this close to the post season.
Most disturbingly, we finally learned why Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians might not be patient with our long neglected running game. The Titans, playing without key run-stoppers Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, were ripe to be run on. Arians obviously read the injury report this week because he dialed up run after run. Unfortunately, Fast Willie Parker only managed 29 yards on 18 carries. Brutal.
Almost as brutal as the draw play Arians called at least three times yesterday and lost 5-8 yards EVERY TIME he tried it. Does this numbskull react to what is happening in front of him at all? He also tried his beloved Empty Backfield set several times and every time Ben ended up sacked or running for his life. I don’t know if its arrogance or stupidity which compels him to keep trying plays which fail over and over again.
I’ll go with stupidity.
When we couldn’t run on a terrible Indianapolis run defense, I figured it was due to FWP just coming back from injury. When we couldn’t run against the mediocre San Diego run defense, I figured it was due to weather conditions. Now that we couldn’t run against a team missing their key run stoppers, I’m starting to think maybe we can’t run against anybody at all. And one dimensional teams seldom last long in the playoffs.
Not that the passing dimension looked all that hot either. Big Ben had a miserable game, fumbling four times (losing two) while throwing two picks for good measure. Once again, he fell into the trap of thinking he had to do everything himself and in trying to be Superman he wound up looking like the Joker. The fumble where he was concussed, for example, was a perfect example of this shortcoming. From the Tennessee 7 yard line, Ben scrambled around trying to make a play. Without even looking at the end zone (where Nate Washington stood wide open), he put his head down and tried to plow forward himself. Moving slightly faster than a club-toed sloth, he got swarmed at the one. His other turnovers were all similar in that he tried to force passes or make plays where plays weren’t there to be made. Also, Ben scrambling to buy time for a big play is good, Ben scrambling to try and pick up first downs/TDs is NOT GOOD.
Previous weeks, our offense has been varying shades of bad but our magnificent defense has bailed them out. This week, thanks to that idiotic cover by the fine folks over at Sports Illustrated, our defense was merely good when it needed to be great. For the first time this year, they allowed over 300 yards of total offense. The most egregious defensive lapse occurred in the third quarter when RB Chris Johnson blew by the entire defense for a 21 yard TD on Fourth and one. A similar defensive lapse occurred in the second quarter when WR Justin Gage scored on a 31 yard bomb. Single player stats for the Titans don’t look all that impressive but their inability to stop big plays was really the uncharacteristic weakness of the defense yesterday.
The 17 point loss was the worst defeat for the Steelers this season. Next week is a bye week with a meaningless game against the Cleveland Browns and then a real bye week before hosting a divisional playoff game at Heinz Field. At this point, it is too late to work on things we need to improve on or worry about correcting deficiencies we’ve seen all season long. We have the team that for better or worse is what it is going into this year’s playoffs. We have a great defense, as long as it stays healthy. Injuries to Harrison and S Ryan Clark (who popped his bad shoulder out again) got banged up yesterday but will hopefully be okay in a couple weeks. We can’t run the ball and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. We can pass the ball but letting Ben Roethlisberger chuck it 30+ times is an iffy proposition between his penchant for mistakes and the offensive line’s mediocrity (they gave up 5 more sacks yesterday).
Last minute miracles are great but it’s not something you can count on happening week in and week out. Luckily for the Steelers, they only need three more to hopefully get where they want to go.
Topics: Afc, Afc Championship, Arians, Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben, Blitzburgh, Browns, Cleveland, Cleveland Browns, Fast Willie Parker, Fire Bruce Arians, Fwp, Haynesworth, Heinz Field, Home Field Advantage, James Harrison, Kerry Collins, Lendale White, Music City Miracle, Nate Washington, Nfc, Number One Seed, Si Curse, Silverback, Sports Illustrated Curse, Tennessee, Tennessee Titans, Terrible Towel, Titans, Troy Polamalu, Willie Parker