Um, so wow. If the Steelers hadn't lost against the Cowboys 27-24 in OT in such a dramatic fashion, I'd say that was probably one of the best games I've seen so far in the regular season. Just sucks that it ended the way that it did (you know, as a Steelers fan). And now, of course, the game next week against Cincinnati is that much more important -- haven't we been saying this for the last two weeks anyway?
Yep, the Steelers managed to dig themselves even farther into a hole in terms of the playoff race. Currently Cincinnati's sitting fat and happy in the Wildcard spot, and even though the Steelers beat them, the game next week is gonna be, for lack of a better word, huge. Like, crazy big huge important wow we have to f*cking win. But they really need to stop it with these stupid, momentum-killing mistakes and figure out what the hell is going on with the secondary. The Steelers have always liked keeping things exciting, but I don't think they're particularly enjoying things being this exciting. At least... I sure don't.
We've got safety Troy Polamalu back as well as QB Ben Roethlisberger but it hasn't lit the fire under their asses that they've needed. Even though we're sincerely missing Ike Taylor and the secondary is all beat up, it's still no excuse for losing this one. Of course, the nail in the coffin was when cornerback Brandon Carr intercepted Ben's pass on the second play of overtime and returned it 26 yards to set it up at the 1. Man, sometimes the Steelers can lose in spectacular fashion in overtime (don't want to think about that Tim Tebow play right now, thanks). Dan Bailey hit a 21-yard field goal to win the game. It was great when the Cowboys did it against the Bengals last week, this week ... not so much.
It's kind of hard to remember the Steelers losing this much. They lost for the fourth time in their past five games. They're just 7-7 and looking at Baltimore's and Cincinnati's asses in the race for the AFC North. If I could think of a word to sum up the season so far, it'd be: "Meh."
Both teams had a chance to win it at the end, when the game was all tied up at 24-24. In the final two minutes, the Steelers got to the 46 after a big pass and a roughing-the-passer call against DeMarcus Ware. But then of course Sean Lissemore and Anthony Spencer sacked Roethlisberger on consecutive plays, making the offense lose a total of 16 yards, which killed the drive and gave the ball back to the Cowboys. But then they were stopped at the Steelers 43. When the Cowboys lined up for a 61-yard field goal to try to win it, they were like haha just kidding, and punted instead. Ben took a knee and the game went into that really short, pathetic overtime.
Ben had looked pretty good up until that final interception. They started off very slow and didn't score any points in the first quarter. Still, they built some momentum during the third quarter. Roethlisberger was able to take the lead 24-17 with a 7-yard scoring pass to Antonio Brown at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Even better, Brown was about to put Pittsburgh in control with a long punt return. That was the time I started feeling good about our chances. Silly me.
In what could be the impetus that lost the Steelers the game, Brown fumbled when Victor Butler knocked the ball out of his flailing arm at the end of that 22-yard run. Of course the Cowboys recovered. They ended up scoring a touchdown and tying the game. This killed the momentum the Steelers were building when, tied at 17, the Cowboys were facing third-and-1 and Romo was ransacked for a 5-yard loss by James Harrison after they tried faking the handoff.
It was going so damn well until that stupid fumble!! That's when the heavens got a nice view of my shaking fist.
This eliminated what rhythm the offense had established when they tied up the score before the half with a brilliant play. Roethlisberger stepped away from pressure and used a couple of pump fakes and spun around like a ballerina before finding Heath Miller wide open, completing a 30-yard score. He was able to give himself something like nine full seconds by scrambling, and no one can pump fake quite like Roethlisberger (that sounded a lot dirtier than I had intended).
He also had a beautiful 60-yard pass to Mike Wallace, who was finally semi-productive after a couple of sloppy games (Wallace ended with 4 catches for 95 yards). But he wasn't able to catch any of the five passes thrown his way in the first half, which, come on dude. Miller also ended up with 7 catches for 92 yards, always proving himself to be Mr. Dependable.
Yet the running game was never established, and the game was yet again put on Ben's shoulders. They racked up just 69 total rushing yards on 17 carries. Their #1 rusher, Isaac Redman, had 30 yards on 3 carries -- but he went 22 yards for one of those. Jonathan Dwyer was only able to run for 22 yards in his 9 carries. Being heavily dependent upon Ben, he did go for 339 yards and 2 TDs ... but that turnover in the end negated all of the progress he's made after last week (since, really, when it's this close to the playoffs, the only thing that matters is the W).
There were some moments of incredible highlights for the defense, but otherwise, Tony Romo picked the beleaguered secondary apart. He ended with 341 yards, completing 30 of 42 and scoring twice. Miles Austin racked up 7 receptions for 79 yards, while Dez Bryant completed 4 for 59 and 1 TD. Seemed all day that Romo just keep completing all his freakin' passes. I have no other eloquent way to say it. I'm sure all Steelers fans are wondering when Ike's coming back. I mean, just look at what's going on with our secondary: Keenan Lewis, who was replacing Cortez Allen, who was replacing Ike Taylor, suffered a groin injury -- we're simply running out of DBs. There's only so much they can do against these super talented receivers.
The Cowboys were also able to run the ball far more efficiently than the Steelers. DeMarco Murray ran for 81 yards on 14 carries. But the defense did try to help keep the Steelers in the game. The best was when the defense, aka James Harrison, was able to create a huge fumble in the first quarter all the way at the Steelers 7, when the Cowboys were driving and held a 10-0 lead. Brett Keisel was able to recover it. Stuffing Romo on third down was pretty sweet too, again due to James. Seems that James was the only guy on defense willing to make any big plays this game.
Still, it was not enough. I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Brown not fumbled that return. Then to keep putting him in for the returns for the rest of the game! WTF!
Bottom line: If the season were to end today, the Steelers wouldn't be in the playoffs. Now their entire run rests upon next week against the Bengals, losing games they could have won against the Cowboys and Chargers. How frightfully inconsistent they've been, and how sloppy and listless. Granted, even if they make it to the playoffs, I doubt they'll be in it for that long. This loss against the Cowboys was a heartbreaker, and it may be hard for them to recover from it. The Cowboys were able to make the big plays when it mattered -- something we were used to seeing from the Steelers, especially during the last waning minutes of the game.
So color me exhausted after such a tumultuous loss against a team that's so easy to dislike. Brandon Carr definitely deserves kudos for picking off Ben when none of the rest of us saw it coming. And if the Steelers continue to play this way for the next two weeks, well, needless to say there's going to be a hell of a lot of scrutiny during the offseason. As of now, I'm going to really not enjoy my hangover and try not to think too much about how important next week is going to be. Hope you're ready for it, Steelers fans! Be nice to your livers until then.