As I sit here in a hungover haze, drowning in a pool of sweat, stale beer, and regret, I haven't yet come to terms with the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-3... after losing to the Tennessee Titans, who were previously 1-4 (thanks to us, they're 2-4 and probably feeling pretty damn good about it).
What is it with the Steelers losing to these god-awful teams? Three of their losses have been against teams with losing records. And of course yet again this one came down to the wire, with Titans kicker Rob Bironas nailing his fourth field goal from 40 yards out just as time expired. The Steelers have lost their third straight game on the road and it was overall an extremely sloppy mess of a Thursday night.
And oh, the injuries. The injuries. We already were missing Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley on defense. (Seeing that Chris Johnson ran for 91 yards on 19 carries and Matt Hasselbeck was able to rack up 290 yards, I'd say we need these guys back -- though a Lawrence Timmons interception in the fourth quarter was definitely a much-needed highlight.) The Steelers had just gotten running back Rashard Mendenhall healthy, and boy did we miss him too. But backup Isaac Redman, who caught 4 passes for 105 yards (the leading receiver of the game), injured his right ankle during the third quarter and didn't play again. Mendenhall seemed to aggravate his Achilles and he stopped playing. Center Maurkice Pouncey hurt his leg on the Steelers' very first play and didn't play again. Then right tackle Marcus Gilbert went down, and it got to the point where some tight ends may have had to play in the O-line. Oh yeah, might as well as throw in linebacker Chris Carter and safeties Ryan Clark and Will Allen while you're at it.
It was seriously like watching a game of dominoes. They consistently fell to the ground in a way like I have never seen. Clearly all those injuries would affect any game, but the Steelers still could have found a way to win this one.
Like all season, the Steelers had trouble on defense as well as running the ball. Though Mendenhall looked great against the Eagles, this time he only had 6 yards on 6 carries before getting injured. Baron Batch, who had no idea he'd play this much, had 10 carries for 22 yards and 1 touchdown, which is actually pretty amazing for him. He was able to step up and help out such a beleaguered offense, but if only that were enough...
Cornerback Ike Taylor was either beat or called for pass interference most of the night, and he's been getting harder and harder to take. Watching Ryan Mundy showed how much the defense really does depend on Troy. There's really only so much James Harrison and Timmons can do on their own. Even special teams screwed up with an extremely costly blocked punt close to the Steelers' goal line during the first quarter. Then of course Shaun Suisham missed a 54-yard field goal to give the Steelers the lead at the end of the game -- though it's hard to blame him for that one. He connected on a 52-yarder earlier, and his kick was right on the money, just a little short. And that blame may be placed on Mike Tomlin, who clearly didn't have enough faith in the defense to punt the ball and give it back to the Titans. Can't blame him -- the defense wasn't able to stop a Hasselbeck game-ending rally that drove the Titans to field goal position. It really is quite scary when you can no longer rely on the Steel Curtain; they're kind of making a mockery of that moniker.
Like we've seen all season, it came down to the fourth quarter. Before the game-winning drive, the Titans were able to tie the game at 23-23 with just 4:19 left in the game. It was the icing on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 3:59 against a defense that seemed to have simply given up. Yet another lead blown.
Really, there's only so much blame the Steelers can put on the injuries. To lose against the Oakland Raiders and then the Titans on the road ... they haven't even played a team like the Baltimore Ravens yet (I can't imagine the damage I'll do to my liver during that one). It might be time to start getting really, really concerned (if you haven't been already). However, one of the highlights is that Ben Roethlisberger became the all-time passing leader of the Steelers, breaking Terry Bradshaw's record, but it's a shame that a win didn't go along with it, especially when it's a game against a 1-4 team. A lot of that can be put on offense coordinator Todd Haley's shoulders too. They ran the ball just 21 times against the Titans -- yes, the Titans -- and the offense was forced into way too many third-and-long situations. They should have been mixing it up and trying for those long 80-yard bombs all night (like when Ben connected with receiver Mike Wallace early on in the game for an 82-yard TD... why did they stop doing that?).
It did kind of seem like the Steelers had given up on nearly all aspects of the game. Offense was sloppy, defense was sloppy, special teams made costly mistakes. Luckily the Steelers have a nice 10-day break before taking on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football. They really do have to figure out why they are losing to such sucky teams on the road though. It feels like a transitional year, that we're going to have to revamp everything in order to become contenders again. The Steelers have lost fourth-quarter leads in four out of their five games. It's kind of getting embarrassing at this point. (Is this karma for what the Steelers did to Hines Ward?) (I really miss him.)
The Steelers need a spark, a revitalization, and I have no idea where they're going to get it from, or if it will happen at all this season. The Titans were able to step up when it was necessary and the Steelers just fell apart at the seams when they were faced with adversity. Like I've said before, it's going to be a long season. Let's hope that all the guys who got injured will be able to take full advantage of these 10 days and get healthy. Otherwise, um, bring on the jager and regret the next morning.
Follow Jill Baughman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jayboff