So much went wrong tonight it's impossible to say there was any one single factor. Instead, it was a nightmarish combination of everything that has plagued the Pittsburgh Steelers this decade.
Let's start with penalties, because where the hell else could you start?
Thirteen penalties for 125 yards. Just think about how many yards that actually is. That's more than a third of what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually gained themselves (which was 350.)
You simply cannot win a game in the NFL with penalty yardage that high. It's unfathomable. False starts, neutral zone infractions, facemasks, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal touching...the Steelers were called for almost every foul in the book. Personal fouls in particular, which carry a 15-yard penalty, were a huge problem. The Buccaneers had four less penalties than the Steelers, but had 75 yards less in penalty yardage.
Penalties simply come down to discipline, and that's largely on each and every player who committed them, but it also lies partly with the coaching staff, who didn't exactly have a stellar day.
The lack of execution and discipline falls ultimately on Mike Tomlin. I won't say he failed to prepare the team, because largely the Steelers' gameplan was pretty solid in that regard. The Steelers weren't out-schemed, and they weren't out-prepared to any noticeable degree. It was execution and discipline, plain and simple.
This has happened repeatedly and, when that's the case, responsibility falls with the man at the very top of the ladder.
Of course it's not a bad day unless Tomlin's clock-management issues rear their ugly heads. Driving with the ball toward the end of the first half, the Steelers had a real chance to put at least three points on the board. Although it wasn't glaringly bad, that situation was mismanaged with regard to the clock and may have cost some very, very valuable points given the final margin of Tampa's victory.
By and large, offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a pretty good game in my opinion, apart from some iffy play calling in the red zone early (a Jet sweep appeared yet again). The offense was rolling through the majority of this game to the tune of 390 total yards. But when the Steelers needed a first down to ice the game, Haley bottled it up pure and simple. Ben Roethlisberger was playing fantastically. Antonio Brown was playing lights out. Heath Miller was having a resurgent day and even Markus Wheaton made himself known. On top of that, Le'veon Bell has proven to be an extremely proficient pass-catcher out of the backfield. Given all that talent, on a 3rd-and-5, the Steelers opted to run out of the shotgun against a team that expected nothing else, resulting predictably in getting stuffed for a loss.
If you're going to run, get the big boys out there and line them up, or better yet, utilize your best playmakers.
It was a terrible decision and that one is all on Todd Haley.
But there's more scorn to go around for the coaching staff, much of it familiar by now. There was practically zero pass rush on second-year quarterback Mike Glennon. This allowed Glennon to largely sit comfortable in the pocket and pick out the holes in Dick LeBeau's defense, which once again was passive in its alignment to say the least. During the course of much of the game, the defense wasn't actually terrible but, in the fourth quarter, they more or less collapsed on two huge plays.
On 2nd-and-25 during the Bucs' second to last drive, Mike Glennon completed a 22-yard pass to Russel Shepard (who?!) eventually resulting in a new set of downs. This play was a complete and utter defensive meltdown. Sure, they made a stand in the red zone, but they gave up three points.
On the Bucs' final drive, the defense gave up a huge 41-yard catch and run to Louis Murphy (who?!) ending at the 5-yard line which essentially ended the game.
Sure the defense largely stopped the run, but they collapsed when it mattered. Dick LeBeau's scheme is supposed to stop long plays on 2nd and 25. It's supposed to stop 40+ yard catch-and-runs. Isn't that what these 7- to 8-yard cornerback cushions are for after all?
It's not, of course all the coaches' fault, it never is.
The offensive line took a huge step backward in pass protection, giving up five sacks, all in the first half.
Was Jason Worilds even playing today?
Stupid penalties were committed in every phase of the game, best exemplified by Robert Golden allowing the Buccaneers to start their second-to-last drive at the 25 yard line as opposed to the 10 yard line by making contact with the face mask during a tackle on a kick-off return.
Players on defense individually had some bad days but, more importantly, they failed as a unit.
Brad Wing will, perhaps unjustly, receive the most criticism for a horrendous 29-yard punt which gave the Buccaneers great field position for their final drive. There's no sugar-coating it, Wing's punt played a huge part in this defeat. It's all very well saying "what if," but if that punt was even 15 yards longer it's a completely different situation that Mike Glennon's faces.
At the end of the day, players play and coaches coach. Today we witnessed a complete failure by both.
Taken by itself, this was a game in which the Steelers beat themselves and had no business losing. It was a game with bad coaching in critical situations and poor execution by players in all three phases of the game.
But taken at a macro level, this is a recurring theme for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past two years. Poor execution, sloppy discipline and some questionable in-game decisions. It has now become a trend, and it's time we accept that maybe these problems can't be fixed with a week's practice.
Sure the Steelers could come out and play penalty-free football next week and the coaches could call the perfect game, but all the evidence suggests they won't. They won't because this edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers commits thoughtless penalties, implodes in crucial situations and fails to execute the simple things that win football games.
But it's not time to hand out the pitchforks quite yet. There's simply too much proven talent on this team and there's no way to tell from the outside exactly what needs tweaking. That's the task of the coaching staff and, as of now, they still retain my trust.
But from here on out, no one should be beyond criticism. From now on, the Steelers' entire organization has to start living accountability instead of only preaching it.