PITTSBURGH – If you wanted a short synopsis on the entirety of the Steelers’ season, watch the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.
As the Steelers did numerous times this season, they found a way drag defeat from the jaws of victory, squandering countless opportunities.
Time and again, the Steelers allowed games to be decided by one or two plays by keeping things too tight for any number of reasons.
They never had a game in which the offense, defense and special teams each played well.
“I don’t think there’s any one reason that you could point to in any game and say, this is the same reason back-to-back-to-back,” said Steelers free safety Ryan Clark. “What we did was create new problems every week.”
It’s a big reason why there will be no playoffs for the Steelers this season.
In previous years, the Steelers could rely on their veterans to come up big in close games. For example, last year, the Steelers were 4-1 in games decided by four points or less. This season, that record is 4-5.
“We never really blew people out since I’ve been here,” said Steelers’ fourth-year receiver Mike Wallace. “It’s always been a field goal or touchdown to win the game. This year, it always seems like we lost those games. It just wasn’t our year.”
Perhaps the leadership the Steelers lost in the offseason with the retirements of veterans Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior was too much to handle at the same time.
The way the Steelers played this season was like watching somebody with a personality disorder – up one moment, down the next. They were hard to judge and often harder to watch.
The star players – the ones making big money – didn’t perform well in critical times. To be successful, your stars have to play like stars. When they don’t, you lose.
At various times, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and cornerback Ike Taylor failed to produce like stars.
You could say the stars never aligned for the Steelers.
Against Cincinnati, it was Roethlisberger’s turn again.
The defense sacked Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton six times. It forced three turnovers – two interceptions by Cortez Allen and a fumble that was also forced by Allen.
And yet the offense failed to produce a single point from those plays. Cincinnati, on the other hand, turned two Pittsburgh turnovers into 10 points.
Game. Set. Match. See you next year.
Roethlisberger, so often the reason why the Steelers won close games in past seasons, was largely to blame, just as he was a week ago in Dallas, when his interception on the second play of overtime set up a game-winning field goalby the Cowboys.
Roethlisberger never seemed to get into a rhythm facing Cincinnati’s pass rush and threw a pair of costly interceptions, one that was returned for the Bengals’ lone touchdown, the other setting up the game-winning field goal.
“We did things to give us a chance to win the game, but I blew it,” said Roethlisberger.
That’s true, but there were other issues as well.
The two consistent players on Pittsburgh’s special teams had been placekicker Shaun Suisham and long-snapper Greg Warren. Against the Bengals, Warren made a bad snap on a 24-yard field-goal attempt that caused Suisham to push it wide left for his first miss in 16 attempts. Suisham later missed a 53-yarder with 1:47 remaining in the game.
“It’s my job to make every single one, and that’s what I strive for,” said Suisham. “When it doesn’t happen, I accept it. I should have been better. I should make a field goal.”
Where this team goes from here remains to be seen. Players will leave as free agents or retire. Others won’t be brought back because of performance issues.
It’s a safe bet that 15 to 20 of the players on the current 53-man roster won’t be Steelers in 2013.
But, as many teams have shown, things can change quickly in the NFL.
Last season, Indianapolis was the worst team in the league. Those same Colts did something Sunday the Steelers couldn’t – clinch a playoff berth.
“It’s this year,” said Clark of the team’s issues. “Year-to-year, things change.”
The Steelers had better hope so.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org