One blocked field goal (-3 points), one fumble at the goal line (-7 points), one dropped TD pass (-4 points), two interceptions (one killing a promising drive, the other one killing the Steelers), plus one uncovered Denver tight end and one Pittsburgh running back losing his grip on the ball in the open field. Put them all together and it spells the Steelers’ third defeat of the season.
Of course the Steelers still enjoy a comfortable lead in the AFC North Division. Barring an utter collapse in December, the Black-and-gold look like a safe bet to reach the playoffs. Granted that their now-snapped 6-game winning streak was an impressive feat, and streaks like that can’t go on forever. What’s troubling, though, is that, ever since the Steelers destroyed the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field in Week 10, they haven’t looked anything like a Super Bowl contender. What’s even more troubling is that mediocre teams such as Jacksonville (now 3-8 following their loss to the Buffalo Bills) and Denver (now 5-6 with the win over Pittsburgh) apparently have figured out how to neutralize the supposedly unstoppable Steelers’ offense. And if the lowly Jaguars and Broncos can do it, you’d better believe that legitimate Super Bowl contenders such as New England and Kansas City can and will do it.
As they begin their 2018 stretch run, and despite their 7-3-1 record, the Steelers still haven’t established any sort of offensive identity or consistency. From week to week (or even from quarter to quarter) we never know for sure whether Ben Roethlisberger and company will commit to the running attack or opt principally for passing. We still don’t know whether Vance McDonald is the second coming of Heath Miller, or just a brute with suspect hands and a knack for committing costly penalties. As for Xavier Grimble, perhaps now he understands that his job is to get the football across the goal line, not necessarily to knock opposing DBs into next week.
Undoubtedly, turnovers were the overbearing factor in the Steelers’ defeat on Sunday in Denver. But unfortunately, we’re seeing the very same pattern which has characterized the Steelers in recent seasons. Yet another slow start in Denver enabled a lesser foe to hang within easy striking distance. Poor offensive play selection in crucial situations and a gratuitous waste of timeouts also were evident, along with Ben Roethlisberger throwing late over the middle or forcing the ball into a crowded end zone. By now, these themes have become annoyingly familiar to the faithful of Steelers Nation.
Yes, it’s true the Steelers very well could bounce back at home in Week 13 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. But that hope sidesteps the fact that this was supposed to be the Steelers’ bounce-back week from their largely underwhelming performance in Florida — which fortunately had a happy ending. But sooner or later (and in the Steelers’ case, sooner), teams that rely on fourth-quarter heroics discover the cavalry doesn’t always come riding over the hill to the rescue at the last minute.
If the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers truly are the solid contender described by Tony Romo during Sunday’s telecast, then they had better raise their performance by several notches during the month of December. Rooney U. will be facing some of the league’s stronger teams during this stretch — teams led by some of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. Whereas the loss in Denver might have been humbling, the matchups awaiting in December could be downright humiliating for a team with an inconsistent offense and a defense which has had substantial difficulty keeping track of the tight end.
While the Steelers might stage fourth-quarter heroics against the likes of Jacksonville, or even Denver (on some better day), they’ll definitely need to be firing on all cylinders when facing the Chargers, Patriots and Saints. So we won’t need to wait very long to find out whether the Black-and-gold truly are the contenders we envision, or just another NFL team whose reach exceeds its grasp.