Numb. That's how I felt after the Steelers loss to Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. Unfortunately, the feeling of numbness following a Pittsburgh loss has been all-too familiar in 2012, as the team has dropped four games on last second or overtime field goals through 15 weeks--including Josh Brown's 43 yard field goal with four seconds left that gave the Bengals a 13-10 victory and eliminated the Steelers (7-8) from the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The general sentiment about the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers, pre-playoff elimination, was that we hadn't seen their best effort. The team was battered and bruised the entire year--Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor were part of a long list of injured players in 2012--and once things took an up-swing in the health department, it was just a matter of time until a true AFC contender took shape.
However, even injury-riddled teams can show signs of dominance at some point or another, and with one week remaining in the 2012 season, Pittsburgh's biggest lead at any point in any game this season was by 18 points over the Redskins in the third quarter of a 27-12 victory in Week 8.
Speaking of that win over Washington, it came in the middle of the high point of the season for the Steelers as it was the second of four straight wins that improved their record from 2-3 to 6-3. But just to give you an indication of where the 2012 team was headed, even during that four-game winning-streak, Pittsburgh trailed by 10 points or more in three of those games. In fact, since the Week 7 game in Cincinnati, the Steelers have trailed by at least 10 points seven times.
As for Pittsburgh's offense, there was a changing of the guard at offensive coordinator prior to the start of the season when Todd Haley took over the reins for embattled play-caller, Bruce Arians. But, instead of improving under Haley, the unit has taken a step back and as of now is ranked 21st in total yards and 22nd in scoring; only once this season has the offense scored four touchdowns in a game--the 34-31 loss to the Raiders in Week 3.
Also, the offense has once again been sloppy in 2012, committing 30 turnovers--including three in Sunday's loss to the Bengals--after committing 28 a season ago.
As for the Steeler defense, it's pretty much been a carbon-copy of the 2011 edition. Dick Lebeau's crew is once again the top ranked unit in the NFL. However, much like a year ago, when Pittsburgh only recorded 15 takeaways, the defense only has 16 so far this season--even after recording three in the loss to the Bengals--and ranks near the bottom of the league in that category. Yes, Pittsburgh has a really strong defense, but for a second straight season, it's been far from opportunistic.
Speaking of which, the Steelers are now minus-27 in the giveaway/takeaway department over the last 31 games dating back to Week 1 of the 2011 season. You're not winning anything with that statistic. A ratio like that will cause a team to fall to the less than stellar Raiders, Titans, Browns and Chargers.
There was great hope and enthusiasm for a strong finish after third string quarterback and hometown hero Charlie Batch stopped a two game losing streak by leading Pittsburgh to an emotional win over the Ravens in Week 13. With Roethlisberger, one of the best quarterback's in the league, returning after missing three and a half weeks with a sprained SC joint, it was just a matter of everything coming together at the right time for the Steelers, or so we all thought.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh has dropped five of six games since Week 10 and three in a row since Roethlisberger's return. The quarterback with the "elite" tag has come up small with four interceptions, and after throwing the game-sealing pick on the second play of overtime in the loss to the Cowboys a week ago, Roethlisberger's two interceptions on Sunday led directly to 10 of Cincinnati's 13 points.
Despite having some impressive numbers before his injury in Week 10, Roethlisberger's play since his return against the Chargers is a perfect microcosm for the entire 2012 season.
All year long, we've been waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to show their true identity. But as it turns out, their true identity has been on display the entire 2012 season, and it's one of a mediocre football team.