By Matt Pawlikowski
Last-minute comeback? The Pittsburgh Steelers tried, but while kicker Shaun Suisham had successfully kicked a game-winning field goal the week before, the distance this time – 54 yards – was a little too much to handle and it fell short, leaving the score tied at 23-23 with 49 seconds remaining.
The end result? The Tennessee Titans got the ball back and kicked a 41-yard field goal as the once-vaunted Steelers defense could not hang on and send the game into overtime. Pittsburgh now is 2-3 as they dropped a 26-23 loss to the Titans Thursday night in Nashville.
“We have to find a way to close it out,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “We had opportunities to close out the game and didn’t do it.”
Although there is still plenty of season left, all of the Steelers losses have come against AFC teams, including one that until yesterday had won just one game. In a division that boasts two teams with one loss (Ravens, Bengals), catching up could be a tedious task, and making the playoffs an even bigger one.
And if losing again was not bad enough, there was also injury to insult as a number of key players, including Rashard Mendenhall and Maurkice Pouncey, went down with injury.
In what could have been a joyous occasion, as Ben Roethlisberger (24-of-40 for 363 yards) broke Bradshaw’s career passing yardage record with the Steelers, becoming the first Pittsburgh quarterback to throw for 28,000 yards in his career.
If there was a key to the loss, it occurred early. Rookie punter Drew Butler had his punt blocked. It led to a Tennessee touchdown and seemed to take the wind out of the Steelers’ sails.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace did have an 82-yard touchdown reception that tied things up on the next series, but the bottom line is the Steelers could not convert when they needed, and for a third time they lost a close game when it shouldn’t have been close at all.
Offense: One week after it found life, the running game was obsolete against one of the the worst defenses in the league. Running back Isaac Redman did have over 100 yards receiving in what the team calls “run game alternative,” but when receiver Mike Wallace is a no-show the second half, after one of the more exciting plays this year (an 82-yard touchdown reception), that says it all. Ben Roethlisberger did pass for 356 yards and passed Terry Bradshaw on the night, but a one-man show in the NFL doesn’t win many games. Grade: C
Special Teams: Kicker Shaun Suisham may have been the MVP of this game, as he hit three field goals once again, including one from 52 yards, but the tone of the loss seemed to be set when Drew Butler had his punt blocked in the first quarter, which led to a Titans touchdown. The return game had some bright spots, especially from rookie Chris Rainey. Grade: D
Defense: Without safety Troy Polamalu, the unit looked listless. Safety Ryan Clark was about the only player who seemed to have any intensity. Cornerback Ike Taylor was flagged a number of times and the secondary was repeatedly burned, making Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck look like Dan Marino. Then there was the defensive line. Pressure on Hasselbeck was next to nil. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons looked good; he had an interception and perhaps was the top player on the field. But once again, the unit got burned in the final minutes, which led to the game winning field goal. Grade: F
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Hands down, it’s running back Isaac Redman. While his stats on the grounds weren’t that impressive, five carries for 14 yards, he had 105 yards in receptions on just four catches.
“We’re not making plays when we need to, “We don’t make excuses. … It stinks. It’s not good. We’ve got to get better.” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“We’re 2-3, and we’ve not accomplished anything, We’re off to a rocky start.” Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote.
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Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.