Defeated. That’s how I felt Sunday night, following the Steelers 31-28 heartbreaking loss to the Saints that put the team’s playoff chances on life-support, with the Cleveland Browns as the only antidote left to save a once-promising season from a pre-January ending.
Following a Steelers game, win or lose, I usually hop on my trusty laptop and pound out a quick summary of the action for BTSC reader consumption, complete with my opinions on what went right and/or what went wrong.
Sunday night, however, I didn’t feel such an urge. I felt like JuJu Smith-Schuster looked as he sat on the bench at the end of the game, in tears over the fumble that wiped out what remained of Pittsburgh’s last hope for either a game-winning or game-tying score. I felt numb, hopeless, simply defeated.
This is what happens when you watch a football team squander away game after game over a five-week period as the Steelers have done since that post-Thanksgiving meltdown in Denver on November 25. This is what happens when a football team dangles victory in front of your eyes for nearly 60 minutes, only to pull it away just when you’re about to embrace it....time and time and time and time again.
That’s four times, which is the number of losses Pittsburgh has suffered since tight end Xavier Grimble’s touchdown killing touchback ushered in a tidal wave of self-inflicted wounds, bad bounces and bad breaks early in what would become a 24-17 loss to the Broncos that started this whole mess.
It was all on display in the loss to the Saints on Sunday. You had the bad breaks—an egregious pass interference call against Joe Haden that led to New Orleans’ first touchdown. You had the bad bounces— one bad bounce was made possible by Stephon Tuitt’s lack of extra long fingers that could have helped him knock down a Drew Brees pass on fourth and two, instead of simply grazing it, which led to another pass interference call on Haden (this one only slightly less egregious).
But most painfully, you had the self-inflicted wounds, like two fumbles—both in the fourth quarter—and Mike Tomlin’s decision to try a fake punt on fourth down on the minus side of midfield and with his team winning by four points—also in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers are a team that hasn’t been able to get out of its own for the better part of five weeks. And unlike 2017, few are coming through in the clutch. Few are finding ways to get the job done—including the players and the coach.
The Steelers are a team currently on the outside of the playoff picture with just one week left. After controlling their own fate for the first 16 weeks of the regular season, they now head into the final week needing, of all things, a Browns victory in Baltimore to wrest the AFC North title away from a Ravens team that was itching to fire its head coach about six weeks ago.
The Steelers haven’t gotten very many breaks and bounces in 2018, but they haven’t played championship-level football on a consistent enough basis either.
Maybe Baker Mayfield and his merry men will bring Steeler Nation peace and joy this holiday season. But even if they do, will the Steelers accept such gifts, or will they fumble them away?
That remains to be seen.
The Steelers are in a vital state with just one week left in the 2018 season.
It shouldn't have come down to this, but it has.
What a sad reality.