I need a little time to digest what exactly transpired during the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 4 loss at Heinz Field to the hated Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers drop their first game of the 2010 season, 17-14, after allowing a last-minute touchdown. For those who didn't watch the game, you can read the recap here. For game highlights on NFL.com, watch here.
What to think of the Steelers' first loss of the season? On the one hand, it was extremely frustrating if for no other reason than many of the same problems that have plagued the team in recent memory reared their ugly head again. Namely, the inability to close out the game, seemingly unimaginative play-calling at times, and the inability to consistently control the line of scrimmage on offense. Frankly though, I don't think the Steelers underperformed in any of those departments - yes the pass defense couldn't get the stop it needed late, but remember, the series before the game-winning TD, the Steelers defense did just that - thanks to two nice plays by William Gay at the goal line, the Steelers prevented Baltimore from scoring with just over 2:30 minutes to play. That was a bigtime stop. As for the play-calling, well, there's always something to complain about in that department. The play-calling was masterful during the Steelers' long TD drive early in the fourth quarter. At other times, the offense looked stagnant. And finally, even though the offensive line struggled at times, they also fared better against the Ravens' front-seven than they have in recent encounters.
Here's what really killed the Steelers on Sunday:
Penalties: 11 of them to be exact. The Steelers gave up four first downs on defense via penalty, and 88 yards in total from their 11 infractions. I'll have more on this later, but basically, not all penalties are as costly as others. For the Steelers, the 11 flags called against them definitey hindered their chances at winning and improving to 4-0 heading into their Bye Week.
Missed FG's: You never want to point the finger at one person after a loss, but Reed's two misses definitely hurt. His first miss, from 49 yards out, was a great kick. Reed played the wind well, and it looked like it was going to be true, but it didn't quite cut back in time and clanged off the right upright. It was Reed's second such kick this season from long distance that caromed off the upright. Reed's second miss was more disconcerting. With the Ravens still holding onto the 10-7 lead they established just before halftime, Reed lined up for a game-tying 44-yarder following Ike Taylor's first interception of the year. Reed, perhaps still thinking about his previous miss, over-compensated dramatically with his technique and yanked it left. It wasn't a shank, but it was quite a bit off target. What's troubling to me is not the miss so much as how he didn't stay true to his routine and approach. For NFL kickers, once your head isn't right, you're in trouble. We better hope that Reed clears his mind and erases that last miss from his memory before Week 6.
The Steelers shot themselves in the foot, sure, but Baltimore deserves a lot of credit for their performance. They won just as much as the Steelers lost. The Ravens' offensive line kept Flacco upright all game (he was sacked just once). They also had a very impressive game-plan in the passing game, a topic I'll be writing about in more detail later. And Joe Flacco, despite making a few mistakes earlier in the game, hung tough and made the throws he needed to down the stretch. Yuck.
I'm not too surprised by the outcome. I had Baltimore as my No. 2 team in my 'Top 5' rankings last week. Their defense has yet to catch many breaks turnover-wise, and their running game has yet to get going, but they have an elite coach that gets his team ready to play every week. They're going to be right there come January. Yuck again.
Even though the loss is very tough to swallow, in my mind, this game is simply one more reminder of how good this rivalry is, and how insanely competitive the NFL is each and every week. The difference between winning and losing is razor-thin. And when you're playing your most heated rival with your backup quarterback, you're not going to emerge victorious too often when you commit that many penalties and fail to capitalize on the turnovers your defense has created for you.