The Steelers defense limited Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel to a grand-total of 92 yards passing over the course of the first 58 minutes and nine seconds of regulation on Monday night. And when the Chiefs took over at their own 20, trailing 13-10 with 1:51 remaining, it was just a matter of Pittsburgh slamming the door one more time in-order to preserve a fourth straight victory.
Unfortunately, Cassel was able to move his offense 52 yards in nine plays, including a 27 yard hook-up with Dwayne Bowe on 4th and 15 that set-up a Ryan Succop 46 yard field goal to tie the game as time expired.
It was the fifth time the Steelers defense gave up a fourth quarter lead this season.
However, even before the dust had settled on yet another blown lead, Brett Keisel and Lawrence Timmons teamed-up to save the day. On the second play of overtime, the Beard deflected a Cassel pass in the direction of Timmons, who intercepted it and returned the ball inside the Chiefs' five yard line, effectively ending the night, as Shaun Suisham kicked a 23 yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 16-13 victory.
It was a rare opportunistic moment for a Steelers defense, severely lacking in the "splash play" since the start of the 2011 season; Timmons's interception was only the ninth takeaway of the season--the unit recorded just 15 takeaways all of last year.
Just like a season ago, when the Steelers defense finished first overall in the NFL, Dick Lebeau's unit is once again ranked fairly high in a lot of important categories. Unfortunately, only the Indianapolis Colts have fewer takeaways in 2012.
As frustrating as Kansas City's game-tying field goal drive was Monday night, it's becoming more the rule than the exception for teams to be able to do that at the end of games. In today's NFL, it's just plain hard to shut down offenses for four quarters--even the ones with a quarterback the caliber of a Matt Cassel.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: The teams that compete for championships in today's NFL aren't always the ones with suffocating defenses, they're more often the ones with opportunistic defenses. A season ago, the defenses of the New York Giants and New England Patriots finished 27th and 31st in total yards, but they combined for 65 takeaways over the course of the regular season and would go on to face each other in the Super Bowl.
Two seasons ago, the Steelers and Green Bay Packers finished first and second in points allowed, but maybe that's because they combined for 67 takeaways. And maybe that combination led to the two teams meeting in Super Bowl XLV.
Speaking of those splash plays, Pittsburgh's march to the Super Bowl in 2010 probably came down to a few dramatic plays by the defense. As good as the Steelers' defense was in '10, if it wasn't for Troy Polamalu's strip of Joe Flacco in a pivotal, late-season victory in Baltimore, and Ryan Clark's takeaway heroics in the third quarter of the comeback victory over the Ravens at Heinz Field in the divisional playoff game, there probably wouldn't have been an eighth Super Bowl appearance for Steeler Nation to celebrate.
Leading the league in a lot of defensive categories in nice, but Timmons's timely INT on Monday night was the perfect illustration of the real importance of an opportunistic defense and how it can change a game.
It's anyone's guess as to whether or not the defense can ever truly turn the tide in the takeaway department--the unit also hasn't recorded a defensive touchdown since September of last year--but in the wake of the latest news regarding the severity of Ben Roethlisberger's sprained SC joint and dislocated rib, Lebeau is probably going to need his charges to rise up and seize the moment a few more times before 2012 is over.