PITTSBURGH – Opportunity knocked Sunday, but the Steelers tripped on the way to answer the door.
This group of Steelers has been nothing if not inconsistent.
Actually, when you think about it, they have been amazingly consistent.
Play well against good teams. Play horribly against bad ones. Pittsburgh’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field was one of the latter performances. And that is what is most disheartening. While the Steelers had struggled in home against sub-par teams, it had always found a way to win.
Against the Chargers, the Steelers not only didn’t win, they never really seemed to be in the game. Or into the game, for that matter.
“Today was a failure,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in perhaps his understatement of the season. “We lost situational football. We didn’t convert enough third downs offensively … and they converted too many against our defense.
“(It was) just a good performance by them, a poor one by us.”
That doesn’t bode well for the Steelers, who knew what lay ahead of them coming into this game.
Despite that, they played with little sense of urgency until the game was out of hand.
By then, it was only a matter of wracking up meaningless statistics for fantasy football players.
“There are sometimes when you see a game and it seems like a team is dominating, and you look up at the scoreboard and the game looks really close,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. “This game looked like it was supposed to. They were kicking our butts on the field, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
The beating was so bad that the Steelers couldn’t even take solace in Baltimore and Cincinnati also losing, meaning, Pittsburgh is in the same situation it was before Sunday.
The Steelers still sit in the sixth, and final, playoff spot in the AFC. They are tied with Cincinnati, which they have beaten once and play again in two weeks. They are two games behind Baltimore in the division standings.
“I feel like we still have a good football team,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “It’s tough to go out and perform that way and try and figure out why.”
Actually, that will be the easy part.
The offense, starting from inside its own 21-yard line on seven of eight first-half possessions, produced two first downs until a last-minute field goal to end the half.
Because of that, San Diego started four first-half possessions at its own 40 or better. Pittsburgh’s defense held up for a while with its back against the wall but finally began to crack. As a result, the Steelers trailed 13-3 at the half.
Then, the defense allowed a 17-play, 78-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the second half, and the offense chipped in with a fumble that was recovered in the end zone and an interception that set up another score.
Perhaps the biggest statistical advantage came on third down, where the Chargers were 12-for-22 in conversions, compared to 5-for-13 for the Steelers, including 2-9 in the first half.
“There were a lot of other teams playing bad football, too, giving us an opportunity, but we had to win to be excited about it,” said Clark. “You can’t look up at the board and be excited about Cincinnati and Baltimore losing when they both outplayed you.
“We control our own destiny, and we’ve known that the whole time. If we win out, then we’ll be in the playoffs. But we can’t do that playing like we did today.”
At least is team recognizes that.
Doing something about it, however, might be a different matter.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.