On Monday afternoon, veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote made headlines when he stated the following in a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article:
Four games we should have won (referring to last year). Do that, and we’re 12-4, but that’s how the league goes…The year before, we made the playoffs and we could have lost four games. The bottom line is we lost some games that we should have won and we didn’t.
Although the Steelers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a number of times last year, I hope that Larry can remember how the Steelers were lucky to “steal” a couple of “W’s” last season as well:
Week 6: Steelers defeat Eagles: 16-14
As some of us might recall the Steelers were very lucky to escape with a win at home over the Eagles last October. In what should have been an easy victory, Pittsburgh’s offense sputtered for the first three and a half quarters and allowed Philadelphia to hang around long enough to deliver what should have been a knock-out blow.
The Steelers were 1-2 at that point in the regular season and had just come off of a bye week and an embarrassing loss to their Raiders in Oakland. After Pittsburgh took a 13-7 lead with 14;51 left in the 4th quarter, it looked like they might finally be able to pull away for good after such a pathetically underwhelming performance.
Apparently the prospect of starting the 2012 season 1-3 didn’t register with their defense as they leaked like a sieve and allowed the turnover-prone Michael Vick to slowly and efficiently carve them on Philadelphia’s following drive.
Vick led his offense on a monumental 17 play, 79 yard drive which ate over eight minutes of clock! During their march up the field, the Eagles converted two 4th downs and two 3rd downs before Brent Celek scored the go-ahead touchdown to put them in front 14-13. At that point it did not look like Pittsburgh’s defense had any answer for the Eagles’ offense. Moreover, it looked like the onus would be on the Steelers’ offense to win the game. When the Eagles lined up to kick off, I remember hoping that Pittsburgh’s offense would milk every second of clock they could before they could score to keep their defense from ruining things.
Thankfully, Ben Roethlisberger kept the defense on the sidelines and looked like the “2008 version” of himself on the ensuing possession as he willed his offense into field goal range. Ben orchestrated a 14 play, 64 yard drive of his own over the game’s final 6:33 to set the stage for Shaun Suisham to kick the game winning field goal. Suisham’s 34 yard boot was true and the Steelers escaped with a 16-14 win as their defense did not have to see the field after their epic meltdown against one of the league’s most ineffective offenses last season.
Sadly, that was not the first (nor will it be the last under the Tomlin regime) time that Pittsburgh came out flat and uninspired against a weaker opponent. Five weeks after the Philadelphia game the Steelers would be in an all too similar situation.
Week 10: Steelers defeat Chiefs: 16-13 (OT)
When one talks about an “ultimate trap game,” last year’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers and Chiefs definitely had the makings of one. I know that I certainly remarked that they deserved to lose that particular game to the 1-7 Chiefs.
Barely one minute into the second quarter, Kansas City had already jumped out to a 10-0 lead as Pittsburgh’s defense looked unprepared to face the Chiefs ground-attack. As would be the consistent theme throughout the 2012 campaign, Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Paper Champion Defense” failed to take supposedly inferior foes seriously. What made Kansas City’s lead even more depressing to witness was the fact that their team had not held a single lead in regulation of any of their 2012 games up until that point (their win was against the Saints in OT).
The Steelers’ offense finally woke up on their next two possessions to tie the game at 10-10 before halftime, but at that point it looked like Pittsburgh would be locked into a struggle against the league’s worst team (record-wise) last year.
The 3rd quarter was when the Chiefs totally should have took control of the game. Unfortunately for them, mental mistakes prevented them from breaking the tie and taking a commanding lead. After their defense knocked “Big Ben” out, Ryan Succop missed a chip-shot field goal (33 yards) on the ensuing possession. I understand that the surface at Heinz Field once November begins is a downright joke and resembles more of a bog than anything else. Nevertheless, the Steelers were really lucky that Kansas City’s kicker botched that important attempt.
Justin Houston then made an idiotic choice after he recovered a Byron Leftwich fumble three plays later when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct due to some celebratory antics. Although the fumble was overturned, Pittsburgh retained possession and gained automatic first down because of the penalty. The stroke of good luck failed to help the Steelers though, especially after four straight runs produced eight yards and the offense turned the ball over on downs!
The mental errors continued for Kansas City on Pittsburgh’s next drive as the Steelers received two first downs on crucial third down plays due to penalties by the Chiefs’ defense. The two infractions helped Pittsburgh’s offense drive into field goal range before Shaun Suisham put them ahead 13-10 early in the 4th quarter with a crucial kick.
The game remained 13-10 until Kansas City got the ball back for what appeared to be their final possession in regulation with 1:51 remaining. All the Steelers’ defense needed was to keep the Chiefs from driving from their own 20 into field goal range to tie the game. Of course, Pittsburgh’s defense made Matt Cassel look like Johnny Unitas on that particular drive. Cassel drove his offense 52 yards and Pittsburgh’s supposedly vaunted defense allowed a 27 yard catch and run by Dwayne Bowe on 4th and 15 when they could have sealed the game. When Succop nailed a 46 yard field goal and sent the game into over time on the next play it looked like the Steelers might actually lose.
Thankfully, Lawrence Timmons (who deserved to go to the Pro Bowl last year) picked off Cassel on the second play from scrimmage in the extra period. Best of all, Timmons returned the ball inside Kansas City’s 10 yard line to set Suisham up with a chip-shot field goal to put the game away before anything else went wrong. Suisham’s kick from 23 yards was good, and the Steelers somehow escaped with a 16-13 win.
Pittsburgh’s players left plenty out on the field last year, so I understand why guys like Foote would be racked with regret over their collective performance in 2012. Nevertheless, all the wishing in the world will not erase their 8-8 mark, especially because they were the ones who failed to perform like a playoff-caliber team should. The team simply lacked the necessary discipline on the field and on the sidelines to perform consistently during the 2012 campaign and qualify for postseason play.
So Foote and his teammates can continue on with their “12-4″ and “we’re still relevant/contenders” rhetoric all they want over the coming months. I just hope that they were lucky to be an eight win team last fall. Moreover, I hope that they are ready for another eight win-season (or less) if they field another “Paper Champion Defense.”
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