After being 7-4 less than a week ago, and feeling good about their chances of clinching a playoff spot, the Steelers are now 7-6, and became the first team in NFL history to be over .500 and lose consecutive games to teams at least eight games under .500.
The New England Patriots defeated the Steelers 21-18, although the scoreboard makes the game look closer than it ever was.
New England came out guns blazing, and Bailey Zappe looked like Aaron Rodgers in the first half of the game. The Patriots had scored one touchdown over their last three games combined entering Week 14- Zappe threw three touchdowns in the first half. The first coming on the first drive of the game when the Patriots marched 75 yards down the Steelers’ throat and culminated the drive with a touchdown toss to Ezekiel Elliott. That drive also featured a 37-yard reception from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished the night with four catches for 90 yards.
The Steelers answered with a field goal before the teams went back and forth with punts over the next three drives. Then Mitch Trubisky threw a bad interception, which the Patriots turned into a Hunter Henry touchdown. The Steelers went three-and-out on their next two drives, and the Patriots scored one more touchdown for good measure with Zappe dropping a beautiful throw to Henry for his second touchdown catch of the day to put the Patriots up 21-3.
The Steelers tried their best to come back. Trubisky hit Diontae Johnson for a touchdown to make it 21-10 before the half. Even after halftime, the Steelers’ defense made some splash plays. Elandon Roberts continued doing Elandon Roberts things by breaking up a pass that was picked off by Mykal Walker off the tip. The offense, though, stalled out and turned the ball over on downs inside the red zone. On the ensuing drive, Miles Killebrew made up for his bad game on Sunday against Arizona by blocking a punt. The Steelers would turn that into eight points with a Mitch Trubisky touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion.
The Steelers’ prime chance to win came on their final drive when on fourth-and-two, Mitch Trubisky launched a ball to Saturn and prayed for a circus catch by Diontae Johnson. He got neither, and that was curtains for Pittsburgh.
There’s so much to say about this two-game stretch, and a lot of it overlaps. I said coming into the game that New England was going to do a lot of what Arizona did and target the shallow portion of the field- they did. New England knew the weakness right now for the Steelers is the off-ball linebacker depth, as well as their inability to make tackles at the second level. Swing passes to Elliott constantly got healthy chunks of yards- he finished with seven catches for 72 yards and a score. Bailey Zappe finished with a 115.2 passer rating- the league leader in passer rating is Brock Purdy with 116.1. The Steelers made Zappe look like an elite quarterback in terms of passer rating- that’s unacceptable. Zappe also averaged 8.6 yards per attempt- that’s what Tua Tagovailoa is averaging for the season- unacceptable.
Offensively, it was awful on all fronts. I wrote in the keys to victory piece that the Steelers couldn’t be one-dimensional if they wanted to have success- they ran the ball into a brick wall all night. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 59 yards on 2.9 yards per carry, and they couldn’t pass the ball or find any balance to open up the run game. Trubisky threw for 190 yards on 5.4 yards per attempt- that simply isn’t going to cut it. As soon as it was evident they weren’t going to be able to counterpunch the Patriots’ run defense with any semblance of a passing attack, the game was over.
And I know people are angry at the false start call on Christian Kuntz late in the game, but that is the last thing fans can blame this loss on. That was the Pittsburgh’s only penalty of the game. The referees didn’t screw the Steelers, the Steelers screwed the Steelers. They put themselves in that situation.
Which brings me to Mike Tomlin.
Enough is enough. It’s time for both parties to move on.
We can respect and admire Mike Tomlin for all he’s accomplished, and all they joy he has helped bring us as fans. But this thing has hit its end. It did a long time ago. Regardless of who is under center, the combined record of your last two opponents was 4-20. You’re supposed to be an all-time great coach, and you have the better roster in both instances- win the damn games. And he didn’t. And it could very well cost them a playoff berth.
The last two games have brought out the absolute worst characteristics of Mike Tomlin-coached teams. They played down to competition and they constantly shot themselves in the foot, Whether it’s wasting timeouts late, or dialing up two awful plays when you need two yards to move the chains, or when you finally do decide to get aggressive on offense, you do it at a time where three points would have been the better decision. All of the worst of the worst in Mike Tomlin was put on display. The Steelers had a golden opportunity presented itself to get to 9-4 and all but guarantee a playoff spot, they completely dropped the ball when it mattered most. Unfortunately, more often than not in the last decade or so, that’s been their M.O. And what have they done to try to fix it? Fired Todd Haley. Fired Randy Fichtner. Fired Matt Canada. Well, Mike Tomlin’s running out of people to fire, and the building is still burning.