In case you haven't heard, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their fourth straight game to the Oakland Raiders this Sunday. Yep, I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around this one, either. In true Steelers fashion, the defense wasn't able to hold the Raiders offense during the fourth quarter ... when it mattered most.
All Steelers fans must have felt the same way when Oakland WR Louis Murphy made a reception for a TD with nine seconds left -- how on earth did that just happen? How could they have possibly blown yet another lead? QB Bruce Gradkowski, who went to Seton-La Salle in Pittsburgh, threw for a career-high 308 yards against what's becoming one of the most mind-blowingly awful defenses in all of the NFL.
The offense did what it had to do during the fourth quarter, with QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing a TD to Hines Ward with 1:56 left, giving the Steelers a 24-20 lead. But the defense let the Raiders charge down the field 57 yards for that winning TD, culminating a game that had five lead changes in the final 15 minutes of the fourth quarter.
It's scary how the Steelers can no longer count on their defense to win. After being #1 in nearly every statistical category last year, they've simply imploded, and I'm not sure how much longer we can blame these losses on the absence of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith. Do the Steelers really miss them that much? Particularly with the absence of Polamalu, the secondary has suddenly become the Steelers' biggest flaw (even more so than the special teams, which actually had a decent showing this time).
According to ESPN, Gradkowski became the first Raiders QB to throw three touchdowns in a fourth quarter since 1979. Now the Steelers have blown the lead for the fifth time in their six losses. Gradkowski boasted a passer rating of 121.8. Remember last December when he faced the Steelers while playing for the Browns? He completed two passes and had a 1.0 rating for that 31-0 loss. Quite the analogy for how far the Steelers defense has fallen this year.
Opposing quarterbacks have been having field days with the Steelers suspect secondary. Cornerback Joe Burnett dropped what would've been a game-ending interception. Murphy got behind Ike Taylor on a 75-yard TD pass. Cornerback William Gay must have fallen down or tripped at least three times and gave up huge completions; however, it seems that he sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter, so hopefully he'll be able to come back soon. It's not like the Steelers need any other issues with their cornerbacks. Murphy had four catches for 128 yards(!) and two TDs (!). I don't think Gradkowski in his wildest dreams would ever imagine putting up over 300 yards against the Steelers D. There's just no excuse for numbers like that.
On the other hand, the offense's numbers were decent. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But he had just 43 yards on 19 carries after a huge 60-yard run ... kind of sad when you're up against the NFL's second-worst defense against the run. WR Santonio Holmes caught eight passes for 149 yards and a TD, and Hines Ward caught six for 77 and another TD. Ben's one (and huge) mistake came at the very end of the first half, when he threw a pick into the end zone as the offense was driving down the field to score. But a team like the Steelers should've been able to bounce back from that, especially against a team like the Raiders.
Keep in mind that in the Raiders' first 11 games, they had never scored more than 20 points. They only had ten touchdowns all season. Their offense was ranked next to last in the entire NFL. Yet they still were able to rip apart the Steelers defense during the final quarter.
Where's my beer(s)?
So much for "unleashing hell," as coach Mike Tomlin promised after the excruciating loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week. Was this really the same team that was 6-2 at the midseason mark? They're now three games behind the Cincinnati Bengals, who had an easy win over the Detroit Lions. There's no way they can win the AFC North, and at this point, it'd be a miracle for them to make the playoffs. Next up is the almost-as-awful Cleveland Browns, who are currently 1-11. My prediction for this game? Seriously, who knows?? No lead is safe with the Steelers, and the Browns are definitely due for a win. May as well deal the final blow to this ridiculous Steelers season.