The AFC North Stumbles in Week 14

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The challenge here is to try to find something hopeful from this godawful mess of a day. Here it is: the only team we lost ground to in the division was Cleveland.

To be honest, Baltimore and Cincinnati just lost. I'm not sure that what the Steelers did this afternoon rises to that level. An offensive philosophy that seems to have been grounded in the notion of 'do no harm' came back to bite Pittsburgh on the bottom today.

Maybe it was about easing a rusty Ben Roethlisberger back into the swing of things, but by the time the Steeler offense decided to aggressively attack the San Diego defense it was essentially too late. The defense wasn't terrible but in the NFL if you give any competent offense (and whatever you think of Phillip Rivers he is for the most part competent) enough bites at the apple, especially with short fields bad things are liable to happen and they did. Add that special teams bugaboo of a well timed holding penalty after strong punt return by Antonio Brown and you have a team effort at one of the worst home losses that you'll see in some time.

The good and the bad? Not a whole lot of the former obviously. It was mostly a little bit of both in many cases. It seemed to me only Plaxico Burress made an unalloyed positive contribution. Ben was somewhat rusty early on and there was an interception, but you really can't lay much of this at his feet. Jonathan Dwyer was uninspiring in the first half, but ran angry after it became clear that this thing was lost. He was helped by an offensive line that seemed to be dictated to by the Charger front. The Pittsburgh runners often were met by San Diego defenders well before they reach the line of scrimmage. Ben didn't have anywhere near the time that Charlie Batch enjoyed a week ago. Even Maurkice Pouncey contributed to the mess with a couple of poor shotgun snaps that had Ben running for his life. Mike Wallace, as it has become all too commonplace this season, took with one hand and gave away with the other with some key drops to go along with two touchdown receptions. Jericho Cotchery returned to drop a pass. Even Heath Miller got into the act with a holding penalty. But the key failure in this regard was the lack of any sense of urgency in the first forty minutes of so of this game, continually handing the Chargers and a short field and leaving it to the defense to handle things.

I watched this game in a sports bar and as the rainy afternoon grew gloomier by the second a small measure of relief came from the other games that were reaching their conclusions. First, the Dallas Cowboys, who had trailed for most of the afternoon at Cincinnati and were this week's designated team to have to deal with the senseless death of one of its players pulled out a victory with a last second field goal, sparing an undeserving Pittsburgh team the additional indignity of being driven out of the driver's seat in the race for the final wild card spot.

In Washington it appeared that the Ravens had things well in hand. They had caught and passed the pesky Redskins and a Washington comeback seemed to effectively derailed when what every fan of professional football in general feared would materialize. RG III was being helped off the field with one leg dangling precariously. Mike Shanahan who had been ridiculed mercilessly when he had drafted another quarterback after procuring Griffin, now looked the genius as Cousins continued the drive and, threw a touchdown to Pierre Garcon and then ran in for the two point conversion that tied the game. Then Washington did what Pittsburgh cannot seem to do, returning a punt deep into Baltimore territory in overtime and winning the game on a field goal.

These two losses provided the Steelers with a reprieve of sorts that they clearly do not deserve. But that's football. It's on to Dallas and who knows what will develop down there.

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