Heartbreak In Steeltown
Pittsburgh 17 – Baltimore 30
Playoff loses don’t come too often in Pittsburgh, and loosing in the Wildcard round to division rival Baltimore was as horrible a sinking feeling as Steeler Nation has ever felt. Loosing a Wildcard Game at home, well, it just shouldn’t happen. But of course the Steelers found a way to play down to their competition, once again.
Without star running back Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh still had plenty of opportunities to score, but per their usual for the 2014 season, settled for field goals. Oddly enough that was good enough, at least for the first half of the game, then it all fell apart in the second half. The real story of the game was, 5 sacks on Big Ben, 2 turnovers, and 8 penalties totaling 114 yards. The Ratbirds on the other hand were on their best behavior, penalized only twice for 14 yards, and Big Joe was sacked just once.
All the nagging issues that have permeated throughout the season reared their ugly head, primarily the Defense not being able to get off the field on third down. Big Joe was a cool 18 of 29 passing for 246 yards, and more significantly, no interceptions. By now you’re starting to see what’s wrong with this picture, the home team is turning the ball over, taking sacks, jumping off sides on 1st and goal, to the visitors it’s like a stroll in the park on a sunny afternoon.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking the absence of running back Le’Veon Bell was the reason the Steelers lost this football game, certainly a contributing factor as Bell would have provide a much needed option in the red-zone, as well as provided sound pass blocking and screen pass options. It did seem clear the players missed their teammate, and not just schematically, but from an on field leadership standpoint.
Needless to say, holding onto those big 9 points scored in the first half, the team was still technically in the game after Big Ben hit Martavis Bryant on a fade pass on the first possession of the fourth quarter, which brought the deficit to 15-20. After a long drive resulting in a field goal by the Ratbirds, probably the most significant play of the game occured. On 3rd and 4 from Pittsbursh’s 26, Big Ben scrambled out of a broken pocket and flipped the ball to newly signed running back Ben Tate, the ball clanged off his hands and right into the waiting knees of macho linebacker Terrell Suggs. It only took Big Joe one play to ice the game with a quick bootleg to his tight end for a quick 6 points.
On the next series, Big Ben moved the ball from his own 20 yard line down to the Baltimore 29. On 2nd and 14 Ben was sacked and had his headed slammed to the turf, he had to leave the game for 3 plays to have concussion tests. Back up Bruce Gradkowski entered the game and was 3-3 throwing the ball, he took the Offense to the 14 yard line. Ben returned and on the first play, scrambled left out of pressure, then hastily lobbed a duck into the end zone directly to a Ratbird defender. And that was the game, with one more possession for the Steelers at 1:56 left in the game.
With an Offense that was minus one of it’s biggest play makers, one would’ve thought the Defense may have picked up their game. Didn’t happen, after giving up 30 points and 295 yards to a Baltimore offense who were poised and determined, the Steelers Defense took it on the chin once again. It was just as much a lack of composure as it was lack of execution, then toss in the critical penalties which helped the Ratbirds get down the field in the blink of an eye, it was the same story we’ve seen over and over during the 2014 Season.
In all fairness they did hold the Ratbirds to 20 points until the fateful turnovers in the fourth quarter, and they did produce two turnovers of their own. They also held Baltimore’s running game to 53 yards, and Big Joe only notched 259 yards passing, of course that’s all he needed to secure the win. It was largely the penalties that killed them in the early stages of the game, giving up quick chunks of yardage. Time of possession was in favor of the Steelers, 24:43 to 35:17, we’ll credit them for a good fight and hold hopes of this young unit being on the upswing come the 2015 season.
No botched field goals, no fake punts, no kick-off returns given up to Jacoby Jones. A good day at the office for the Steeler Special Teams.
The coaching staff had their collective hands full leading up to the Wildcard game, working in an entirely new backfield comprised of two rookies and free agent running back Ben Tate, who signed with the team three days before the game. No sympathy here, as they were walking on thin ice with only Le’Veon Bell as their primary back, only a month after loosing back up running back LaGarrette Blount.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Coach Tomlin had the team fired up and prepared for Playoff football, reminiscent of the lack of attitude the Steelers had in Super Bowl 45. It is what it is, credit must be given to the coaching staff for keeping this team in the hunt throughout the season. It’s difficult to imagine this team would have to taken themselves all the way to the big dance, but I suspect everyone had grand hopes of winning the Wildcard game at home.
A painful loss in a Wildcard match-up that no team should loose given home field advantage, even worse loosing to the hated Ratbirds. Credit where credit is due, the Ratbirds were poised and ready to raise their game to playoff level, the are a veteran battled tested team. The Steelers on the other hand were unable to raise their play or grasp the significance of the moment, the excessive penalties and lack of focus contributed largely to the loss.
Now the Steelers head into the off season with a multitude of changes and decisions to make, many players are going to be gone, and the defense is still largely in flux. Overall is was a good season, going from 8-8 the last two years to 11-5 and winning the division is certainly a step in the right direction.