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A Sad Day in Steeler Country

Well, it's fairly safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers won't have an opportunity to defend the Lombardi Trophy in the 2006 playoffs. Heading into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers had an outside shot at making a run towards the playoffs if certain breaks fell their way. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh was helped out by a Jacksonville loss, but none of that matters. Pittsburgh laid a big fat egg yesterday, getting thoroughly outplayed and out-coached by a team that was clearly more focused, hungry, disciplined, and well prepared on both sides of the ball.

I'd do a positional breakdown of what happened yesterday but it would be somewhat superfluous. Every unit deserves a F for their performance, beginning with the coaching staff. The 9 nine sacks allowed were a franchise worst for Pittsburgh, a not-so-impressive feat considering how long this organization has been playing football games. The 73 sack yards were more than 3 times what we gained on the ground. Yikes.  We finished the game 1-for-12 on 3rd down. You're not going to win any games in the NFL with that conversion rate...period. Here's another telling stat: we ran the same number of offensive plays as Baltimroe (62), yet possessed the ball for almost 10 fewer minutes than Baltimore.  That's inefficient offense to say the least. Finally, put 3 more turnovers in the giveaway column for the 2006 Steelers.  Big Ben threw 2 more picks, but the fumble he lost that was returned for a TD might have been the most costly mistake of the day. The Steelers had something resembling a drive going when Roethlisberger coughed up the ball on a blind-side hit by Ravens CB Corey Ivy. When Adalius Thomas returned the fumble 57 yards to make it 24-0, the game, and the Steelers' playoff hopes were all but over.

What's truly disappointing about yesterday's game was that it was Baltimore, not Pittsburgh, who seemed to be playing for their playoff lives. We got hit in the mouth early by Baltimore's patient, methodical offensive attack and never recovered. We didn't exactly let Jamaal Lewis, Mike Anderson and Ovie Mughelli run wild, but we tackled just poorly enough to make their running game effective. As a result, we never really put them in uncomfortable third down situations where we could gear up our pass rush and get after McNair. Without being pressured (the Baltimore offensive line gave up 0 sacks), McNair was able to carefully make enough plays with his arm.

It's a sad day in Steelers nation. We've been lucky to cheer for a team that for the past 10 years or so has perennially competed for divisional championships and the playoffs. The Steelers have been so good under Coach Cowher (more on him later), that we're legitimately shocked when we field a team that can't get it done on Sundays. In many ways, we've been spoiled. You can't win every year, and the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers are a mighty fine testament to that unfortunate reality.