|Steelers ponder a game they couldn't possibly lose, but did|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2007 02:11|
After kicking away from Leon Washington all day, the special teams allowed his pivotal 33-yard punt return to set up Mike Nugent's decisive 38-yard field goal in overtime.
Of course, that was just the last of many miscues that helped turn a sure win into a loss.
A defense giving up the fewest yards and points in the league allowed a 100-yard running back for the first time in 35 games. A quarterback making only his third NFL start drove his team nearly the length of the field against them for a tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can't wait to praise each week allowed seven sacks and a half-dozen more pressures by a defense that previously had only seven sacks all season. A team that is among the least-penalized in the NFL was flagged for 100 yards in penalties.
``We played totally out of character,'' Hines Ward said.
The Steelers spent Monday weighing what their 19-16 overtime loss Sunday to the Jets has done to their season, their AFC North lead, their confidence and their psyche.
How could the Steelers (7-3), coming off three consecutive division victories, lose to the New York Jets (2-8), who had won only one other game? How could a two-week stretch against the Jets and Dolphins (0-10) possibly prove worrisome to the Steelers?
Now they know how.
``We win together,'' coach Mike Tomlin said, ``and we stink it up together.''
If the Steelers want some historic perspective, perhaps they should refer to a similarly played, 24-6 loss to the expansion Houston Texans on Dec. 8, 2002, that players such as Ward and Alan Faneca remember.
In another they-couldn't-lose-but-they-did game, the Steelers outgained Houston 422-47, permitted only three first downs, one by penalty, and 10 yards passing, yet lost in one of the most bizarre games in NFL history. Tommy Maddox threw for 325 yards, but had two interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns.
Win the Texans game, and the Steelers would have skipped the wild card game and played at home the following week.
It's too early to tell what damage this loss will do, though. For now, it has pushed the Steelers out of the AFC's No. 2 spot and sliced their division lead over Cleveland (6-4) to one game.
What is unknown is how this will affect the Steelers when they go on the road again, to New England (10-0) on Dec. 9, St. Louis (2-8) on Dec. 20 and Baltimore (4-6) on Dec. 30. The Steelers have lost three times on the road to teams that didn't have winning records at the time: the Cardinals (5-5), Broncos (4-5) and Jets.
What is surprising is this is largely the same team that went 7-1 on the road in 2004 and 9-2 in 2005, counting playoff victories in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver.
``Historically we have been a good team on the road,'' Faneca said. ``We have always played well in that environment. I don't know why. It is something different.''
The one key rookie the Steelers have is Tomlin, whose team is 7-0 in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland and 0-3 elsewhere. That lack of success away from familiar settings could prove troublesome somewhere down the, er, road.
``Teams separate themselves in November, and we wanted to separate ourselves and we didn't do that,'' defensive end Brett Keisel said. ``It's something we are all accountable for and, hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and it will help us down the stretch.''
Some more immediate problems are straightening out the offensive line, which helped Willie Parker gain only 52 yards against what was the NFL's worst rushing defense.
That's to say nothing of how Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens (162 yards passing) and running back Thomas Jones (117 yards) played against them.
``We'll find our groove when we have to, I think,'' Roethlisberger said.
Last week would have been a good time to start.