Poor first half of season too much to overcome for Steelers team that's played much better in second half

Rob Carr

The Steelers may be 5-7, but they've played a much better brand of football over the past four games. However, just because Pittsburgh has turned things around a bit, it can't erase the horrendous 2-6 start, a start that may ultimately result in another January at home.

My 11th grade social studies teacher called us up to the front of the class, one-by-one, near the end of the school year to give everyone their final grade. If I remember correctly, I did OK and got the grade I was hoping for. Not everyone could say the same, including a young lady who went off to cry in the back of the classroom after she received her failing mark from the teacher.

You see, this girl screwed around the majority of the year and didn't take her class work seriously. She skipped school a lot, and when she was around, she didn't bother to learn anything about places like Russia and why there was a revolution that led to a Soviet take-over in 1917.

She did try really hard over the last two weeks of the final semester, coming to class everyday, doing extra credit  and just really being on the ball.

Only problem was, it was too little, too late.

If just doing extra credit and paying attention over the last two weeks was all one needed to earn a passing grade, why even bother going through the motions of having class the other 38 weeks?

When I think of the Steelers 2013 season and their somewhat devastating 22-20 loss to Baltimore Thanksgiving evening that dealt a huge blow to their playoff chances, I can't help but think back to that fellow student of mine, some 24 years ago.

Even though the loss was memorable for its many controversial moments, there was nothing glaring that stood out for the average fan to be really angry about, other than the Ravens and their fans accusing Mike Tomlin of "cheating" for his inability to recognize where Jacoby Jones was during his 73 yard kickoff return in the third quarter that led to a field goal and a 16-7 lead for Baltimore (someone needs to point out to the Ravens that there's a difference between cheating and being totally oblivious to your sideline positioning--the latter being something Tomlin may, in fact, have been guilty of).

I'm sure one could criticize Todd Haley for having his offense start the game running the football after so much success in the no-huddle attack over the previous two weeks,

But the Ravens are a sound defense, so who's to say a no-huddle wouldn't have resulted in a pick-six and a 7-0 deficit for Pittsburgh, right off the bat?

I'm sure you could point to the 54 yard hook-up between Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith to the one yard line on Baltimore's first offensive possession that ultimately paved the way for the seven yard touchdown reception by Smith a few plays later, a play in-which Troy Polamalu may have been out of position and unable to give Ike Taylor the proper inside help.

But those things happen in just about every football game.

Like many have already, you could point out Shaun Suisham's blatant brain-freeze on the 50 field goal attempt in the first half, where he didn't know the proper cadence and started his approach way before the football was snapped.

But it's not like a 50 yard field goal is a chip-shot, so it may not be wise to speak in "absolutes' about what would have happened if not for Suisham's mishap.

One could point out the ridiculousness of the rule interpretation on the overturned touchdown that was initially awarded to running back Le'Veon Bell very late in the game but taken away after his helmet was knocked off.

But it's not like it mattered much, considering Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Jerricho Cotchery for a score, two plays later that pulled the Steelers to within two points.

If you wanted to, you could call out Emmanuel Sanders for failing to haul in the pass on the two point conversion that would have tied the game at 22.

But it's not like it was a "gimme" catch. Sanders had to try and catch a ball with a defender in his face--never an easy thing to do.

Yes, there were many things that could have been pointed out in Thursday's loss in Baltimore (don't forget the failure by the defense to get a turnover despite Flacco's 14 INTs coming into the game, and the fact that Tomlin may have accidentally had the best angle of anyone in M&T Bank Stadium on Jones' huge return), but in any close loss, you could point to a plethora of mistakes.

The fact is, as devastating as the Thanksgiving loss was, it  wasn't one we'll all be talking about for decades.

Not to simplify things too much, but football teams sometimes lose games, and this is especially the case when these games are played in hostile environments and on national television.

If the 5-7 Steelers and their fans really want to be upset about something, they need not look any further than the first half of the 2013 season, when the team was 2-6 and didn't deserve to be associated with the word "playoffs" by even the most optimistic of fans.

Through the first eight games, the offense failed to score 20 points five times, it turned the football over 17 times, and Roethlisberger was sacked 32 times.

During that same time-frame, the defense only recorded seven takeaways, 13 sacks and  gave up countless plays of 50 yards for more--including  plays of 81 and 57 yards in the Patriots game on November 3, a game in which the unit allowed a franchise worst 55 points and 610 total yards.

By just about any measure, it was a horrendous first half of the season, a first half that simply can't be erased because Pittsburgh had won three straight, prior to the Ravens game.

There is no extra credit awarded because the offense has scored at least 20 points in five straight games, the unit has only given the football away one time in four games, and Roethlisberger has only been sacked once since November 10.

The defense can't have its September and October records expunged just because it has seven takeaways, 12 sacks and has only yielded 17.5 points per game since that infamous night in New England.

The Steelers have been playing some great ball, as of late (and Thursday night's game was pretty exciting, despite the outcome), but the first half of the season left the team with a razor-thin margin for error, a margin that may now be too thin to entertain even the slightest playoff possibilities.

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