If you would have told me that, at some point during the season, the Steelers would have to settle for a 16-16 tie when their starting quarterback was put on the COVID-19 Injured Reserve list less than 24 hours prior to kickoff, I may have been okay with that.
But life is all about context.
The Steelers 16-16 tie occurred against the 0-8 Lions at Heinz Field on Sunday. That’s some context for you, right? Also, Pittsburgh turned the football over three times to zero for those lowly Lions. Two of those turnovers occurred in overtime; not only did they occur in overtime, but they happened in Detroit territory, right when it looked like the Steelers were about to give their very-talented kicker, Chris Boswell, a shot to win it with his strong leg.
The last fumble, with mere seconds left, was fitting since the play, a short out pass to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, perhaps shouldn’t have even been called. Pittsburgh had it first and 10 at the Detroit 39 with 15 seconds left. The Steelers had zero timeouts left at that point in the game. Freiermuth caught the ball well before the sideline and had virtually no chance of getting out of bounds the moment he corralled it. Even if he had made it to the boundary, he would have picked up maybe two yards? What good would that have done? Boswell is having himself one helluva year, and even though Pittsburgh was still theoretically one yard behind his range at the 39, I would have taken my chances from 57 yards away. OK, it was raining. Maybe the Steelers were hellbent on giving their kicker a better shot in the cold and wet atmosphere of the always difficult to kick in Heinz Field. I get it, but a two-yard out pass? Why not try a 10-yard out pass at that point? Also, why not call a play where the receiver didn’t have to fight to get out of bounds?
That’s more context. If you’re looking for additional context, how about the 50 passes that backup quarterback Mason Rudolph threw in that cold and wet atmosphere of Heinz Field? Yes, rookie running back Najee Harris carried the ball 26 times for a healthy 105 yards, but none of those carries happened when Pittsburgh had it first and goal from the six in the third quarter. Rudolph attempted three-straight passes, and instead of the Steelers potentially taking a 17-16 lead, they had to settle for a 16-13 deficit.
Speaking of rushing the ball, the Lions had little trouble doing that and amassed 229 yards on 39 carries, as the defense reacted to Detroit's ground attack as if it had never seen anything like it before. The holes were huge. The tackling was uninspiring. The runs were often long. It was so bad, I now long for the days of Tyson Alualu and the mini-celebrations that took place all around Steeler Nation last spring when he had a change of heart and decided to re-sign with Pittsburgh.
If only Alualu could have stayed healthy this year.
Speaking of health, how about that hip injury suffered by T.J. Watt late in Sunday’s game? Yikes.
Will he be healthy in time for the Chargers game this Sunday night? Watt’s injury news would have been unsettling even after a win, but it just feels worse after tying the worst team in football.
What really stinks is that the Steelers had a legitimate chance to move into first place in the AFC North. The Ravens lost to the Dolphins on Thursday night. The Browns were destroyed by the Patriots on Sunday afternoon. Pittsburgh could have made a statement with a victory.
Instead, the Steelers played like a team that wasn’t good enough to be in first place. Yes, I know Rudolph was in and not Ben Roethlisberger, but the opportunities for victory were still there, and they did not get it done. They made critical mistakes at critical moments.
This feels like the wet and sloppy 21-21 tie against the Browns in Week 1 of the 2018 campaign. No, it wasn’t a loss, but gosh darn it, it sure seemed like it.
Ditto for Sunday afternoon in the cold and rain at Heinz Field.
Context. Life is all about context.