It's probably safe to say that most Pittsburgh Steelers fans got into the trap of thinking that it was simply inevitable that the team, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu back, would simply go ahead and win the next four games to finish out the season. Thanks to a solid ass whooping courtesy of the San Diego Chargers, just goes to show that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. Especially since the Steelers held the record of beating the Chargers the most consecutive times (14-0) at home during the regular season. Well, goodbye to that.
Seems like the Steelers forgot how to do a lot of things during this rainy Sunday afternoon. Like, catch passes. Or, you know, run the ball. Even falling on the ball when it's loose in the endzone instead of trying to pick it up. Or play defense on third-down. The offensive line seemed to forget why it was there at all. The team fell asleep and didn't seem to care about this game. What happened to the momentum after third-string QB Charlie Batch's miraculous win from last week? Seems easy enough in hindsight: The Steelers thought this one was a given and played that way.
It wasn't an easy welcome back for Ben. He threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns in his return after being injured, but a lot of those numbers came too little too late, after the Chargers racked up an insurmountable lead. He also had two turnovers that proved to be quite costly: a deflected pass (off his own teammate, yeah) that Antonio Brown tried to pick up but dropped and then Charger Quentin Jammer fell on it in the endzone (that was the touchdown that pretty much sealed the Steelers' fate), and an interception in the fourth quarter that led to the Chargers' last touchdown when they could have been trying for a comeback.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer struggled as the starter, getting just 32 yards on eight carries. Ben almost topped that with 31 yards on five carries, which is never a good thing for a team's running game. Dwyer and Isaac Redman both couldn't gain one freakin' yard on third and fourth down in the second quarter when the Steelers went for it to spark some sort of momentum. Looks like Rashard Mendenhall might start next week, and at this point ... why not?
Nothing seemed to be clicking with the offense, which was made all the more obvious with some big dropped passes. Mike Wallace had a HUGE drop during the second quarter that could have led to a touchdown (the Steelers were only able to get 3 points by halftime). Antonio Brown also had a drop, when the ball was thrown right into his chest, and most of the receivers racked up their numbers after the game was all but lost. Wallace did eventually make up for his earlier drop by getting 112 yards and 2 touchdowns, but, again, it was too late.
The third quarter essentially sealed the deal on this loss. The Chargers only rushed 29 yards in the first half, but then the supposedly #1 ranked Steelers defense allowed a 17-play scoring drive to open up the quarter. The Chargers were able to gain 52 yards on nine rushes, which pretty much took up the entire quarter (okay, more like 9 minutes or so, but still). The defense also allowed Ronnie Brown to RUN 17 yards on third-and-13 during that drive. I mean, 17 plays?? WTF? And even with Troy back, there were no turnovers. None.
And the Steelers clearly missed cornerback Ike Taylor, who didn't play for the first time in 135 starts. The Chargers were able to get to a 10-0 lead early because nickel back Curtis Brown blew his coverage and allowed a 39-yard TD pass. He was struggling all game, so the Steelers replaced him with Josh Victorian, who they just signed, in the third quarter. Come back soon, Ike! Chargers QB Philip Rivers only threw one pass longer than 14 yards (that 39-yarder), but just picked the defense apart with simple slants, especially on third-down, and it got to the point of embarrassing after a while. They were 12 of 22 for third-downs, and 5 of 5 during that 17-play scoring drive. Not gonna win games that way.
Um, as probably the only silver lining, at least we can still depend on kicker Shaun Suisham? Yay.
Anyway, let's make this whole thing even more depressing, shall we? Not only did the Steelers snap that 14-0 regular season streak against the Chargers at home, San Diego had previously lost seven of its past eight games. This should have been a walk in the park for the Steelers, and they certainly played like they didn't give a shit. They allowed the Chargers to score two touchdowns in 12 seconds. They never had the lead and really didn't seem to mind. They're now 7-6 after four losses to some really crappy AFC teams. But it seemed to be in the water in the AFC North, as for some miracle, the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both lost, and the Steelers are still in playoff contention. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are tied for the last playoff spot in the AFC, gah. But really, how did the return of Big Ben not spark this team into winning? It just culminated the one thing that the Steelers have represented this season: inconsistency.
As of now, who the hell knows what's going to happen with the AFC playoff race. The Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers will all look to bounce back after these embarrassing weeks. Up next for the Steelers is the Dallas Cowboys, whom we were all just shamelessly rooting for when they were playing the Bengals. Prediction for this game? When it comes to the Steelers, you just never know. Let's hope that something lights a spark under their asses and they're able to finish out the season with a playoff run. At this point, I doubt we'll get all that far in the postseason, but at least it'll give us Steelers fans something to look forward to in January.