This one's going to sting for a while. Courtesy

Steelers AFC Wild Card Loss: The Morning After

It’s hard to … well it’s just hard right now how to put into words what took place last night in Denver.  I guess shell shocked would be a good one.  I hate days like these because a fan like me is on the fence with my state of emotions – on one hand I’m down right pissed at what took place, and on the other I’m down right proud of everything this team accomplished last night (as well as the season).  Here are ten things from last night to consider.

1. Ike Taylor had the worst game of his career.  And it came at the worst time for the defense.  The Steelers gave up 4 40+ passing plays to Tim Tebow when they gave up only 2 of those kinds of plays all season.  Ike gave up over 200 yards in passing, a 22 yard pass int. call and a 5 yard holding call for an auto 1st down.  Ike silenced just about all of his critics this season with his shut down of the corners he faced.  He had the third best defend the pass success rate in the league at defending (not just batting down) 70% of the passes thrown his way.  Honestly, he was the last guy I would expect to self-implode last night.  But, he did as it was obvious how badly he was blowing coverages and making poor decisions.  The loss is not all on him, but in that overtime play he went outside when he should have went in and failed to make the tackle after the catch.  For him, I don’t think there’s a deep enough hole right now.

2.  I don’t like criticizing refs to the point of blame for the outcome of a game, but they sure stunk this game up.  They were inconsistent with their calls on both sides of the ball.  I was surprised that Ronny boy was able to explain the overtime rules correctly during the coin toss.  Holding is a bit of a subjective call because one could argue that it happens in some form or another every single snap.  But the Broncos front line could do no wrong last night.  Even before the injuries to the front D-line, the Steelers weren’t getting penetration.  You can’t tell me that the Broncos line is that good.  It allowed Tebow with plenty of time to throw and let the receivers perform a bunch of double moves that got them open – something Tebow said after the game.

3.  Ah yes, the injuries.  The standard is the standard.  Starters in waiting.  We’ve heard it all before from Tomlin.  Injuries shouldn’t be an excuse of the outcome of a game.  But, you can’t help but to acknowledge injuries played a huge role.  Six starters were out to start the game and then the Steelers lost three more during the game: Hampton, Keisel and Starks.  I believe that Starks was already playing injured at the start of the game and it finally overcame him in the 2nd  half.  He was pretty terrible all night.  The biggest guy on the field and Ben’s favorite protector got bulled rush and knocked over on more than one occasion.  He was slow to get up after many plays.  You would like to think that 2nd stringers could be just as good as the 1st team, but the reality is they are 2nd stringers for a reason.

4. On to something positive.  Isaac Redman put to rest many critics last night with his performance.  17 carries and 121 yards is a great game.  He averaged 7.1 yards per carry and rarely ever had a carry for a loss or zero net gain.  He played hard and kept pushing through hits.  He broke several big runs (which helps attribute to the big average) but unfortunately couldn’t put one of those in the end zone.  Perhaps Mendenhall could have with his speed, but I would like to think the running game was as good as it was last night because of Redman starting.  His performance last night opens up the door to begin talking about what happens if Mendenhall does not ‘fully recover’ from his ACL tear.

5. Mike Wallace lost the battle against Champ Bailey last night.  3 catches for 26 yards and a dropped pass that would have gone for over 50 yards.  Roethlisberger was intercepted a few plays later.  Bailey was with Wallace most of the night and looked like… well… Ike Taylor with how good his coverage was.  Denver double teamed Wallace well.  Bailey almost had an INT in the endzone that would have iced the game for good.

6.  Woodley and Harrison, though on the field, would have been better off munching on nachos and drinking beer in the stands.  They were completely ineffective last night.  Harrison was the only one out of the two (hell out of the whole team) to get to Tebow enough to flush him out of the pocket.  Too bad it was always after 3-4 seconds and the Broncos’ receivers had enough time to find open holes in coverage.  Woodley sat out a couple times – oxygen related or injury related, I don’t know.  But, I wouldn’t be surprised if Woodley pulled a ‘Polamalu’ last night and played far less than 100% than he was willing to admit.  His efforts simply translated into two tackles, neither were solo.

7. Big Ben is the true Iron Man of football playing through the injuries that he does.  But, as I’ve stated before, the high ankle sprain is just one that he can’t.  It effects too much of his mechanics and who he is as a QB.  You could still tell last night that it was effecting his throwing ability.  It messed with his head – several times he rushed throws even though the pocket never collapsed on him… he only thought it was.  He was much better in this game than the 49’er and Browns game (last week’s).  In fact he got better in the second half.  He left his tendency to favor that ankle and began to run with the ball and make better throws – on the run no less.  Being down 17 points, he couldn’t favor the ankle any longer.  He probably did more damage to that ankle, and should the Steelers won last night’s game, I don’t know if he would have been good to go against the Pats.

8. Mike Tomlin needs to hit the books and learn to manage the game better.  There I said it.  His clock management has been terrible this season and it could have snubbed them at the end of regulation.  I found myself yelling at the TV pleading for a timeout as the clock went under 45 seconds and Ben was still trying to call out a play to the spread out offense.  They had two left at the time and could have burned one during that drive instead of wasting one on a sack fumble that happened one play later.  Also, I will be writing up quite the tongue lashing on playing Ben instead of Batch against Cleveland.  Bad Tomlin, bad.

9 & 10.  I’m combining these two because there’s so much going on it takes up two slots.  9 &10 = Heart.  I fully believe that there is no other team in the NFL that could muster this type of comeback under all the circumstances.  They may be old(er).  They may be slow(er).  But they were far from done.  Any other team (like the Falcons) would have folded up being down by 17 points.  But not this team.  Not after they have already come back from a huge deficit against Baltimore the year prior.  The defense was in disbelief the entirety of the 2nd quarter.  They could have easily folded in the 2nd half.  But they held strong.  The offense was persistent and kept chipping away at the board.  The defense got a key turnover late in the game.  Willis McGahee almost became the goat.  There was life on that sideline.  A team who won the Super Bowl just a few years ago and lost it last year kept going.  When they easily could have said, well we’ve been there before let’s just take our licks and go home – they fought back and were relentless.  That’s why Ike’s blown coverage on the one and only play in OT hurts so much.  The team fought through all those mistakes.  All the previously missed opportunities.  They almost won that game.  And that’s more than can be said of many teams – 24 to be exact.  But I think they have more heart than the other 31.  That’s for damn sure.

I’m proud of our boys in Black & Gold.  Like Adam, I’ll polish that turd a bit.  There are a ton of good things to take away from this season.  Some very promising things that I can’t wait to see how they translate into next season.  Yes, there’s a ton of questions out there  – will Ward retire?  Who should the Steelers draft?  Do we need to overhaul BOTH lines?  Is Mendenhall done?

In time those will all be answered.  But for now, the Steelers and all of Steelers Nation need to keep their heads held high and their chests out for a great season that just fell short of something even greater.  We’ll get that division back, and we’ll have our yearly shot at the playoffs.  The Steelers are just that type of organization – and I’m proud to be part of its Nation.

Here we go Steelers, here we go.

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