Sloppy performance costs Steelers control of playoff spot
PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers kept insisting there was no need to scoreboard watch, figuring they didn't have to worry about their spot in the AFC's jumbled playoff picture if they kept winning.
Four baffling quarters in Seattle later, whatever semblance of control the Steelers had is long gone.
As December begins, Pittsburgh (6-5) is right in the middle of the chaos wondering how it let a winnable game slip away so convincingly in a 39-30 loss.
''It's one of those things where we have a lot of games left that we have to win,'' guard David DeCastro said. ''We've got to make it happen.''
Any wiggle room is almost gone after the offense turned it over four times, the defense seemed incapable of tackling in crucial situations and head coach Mike Tomlin appeared to outsmart himself with a pair of curious decisions.
''Moving forward, the teams that we're playing, we've got to be honed in on everything that's going on,'' guard Ramon Foster. ''That's less turnovers. That's running the ball. Everything. There is no margin for error.''
Partly because the Steelers committed so many errors while trying to win in Seattle for the first time in 32 years. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 456 yards but also threw a pair of interceptions before taking himself out of the game late to be checked for a concussion. There was no immediate update Monday, leaving Roethlisberger's availability for next Sunday night's visit from Indianapolis uncertain.
Roethlisberger's backup, Landry Jones, had two of his four pass attempts intercepted, including an ill-advised fake field goal on the first play of the second quarter that swung momentum back to Seattle. Coach Mike Tomlin took ownership of the call while also defending his decision to settle for three points instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal at the Seattle 3 with less than 4 minutes to play.
''We needed to get a stop,'' Tomlin said. ''I felt confident in our ability to do it.''
It didn't happen as Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for an 80-yard catch-and-run that put the game out of reach. The play was typical of a frustrating afternoon for the Steelers, as Mike Mitchell and Antwon Blake both got their hands on Baldwin only to have him bounce off and keep going. Pittsburgh's defense has given up yards by the chunk this year but has survived thanks to an ability to make the splash plays when they mattered. It didn't happen against Seattle. The Steelers failed to produce a turnover for the third time this season. It's hardly a coincidence their record is now 0-3 in those games.
''The offense gave us 30 points,'' defensive end Cameron Heyward said. ''When you get opportunities like that, it's hard to swallow the letdown. We've got to grow from this – myself included. It shouldn't sit well with any of us.''
The Steelers don't have a lot of time to mope. The Colts (6-5) and 40-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck loom next weekend in a game that should speed up the sorting out process as the AFC tries to find a pair of wild cards out of a group of seven teams either 6-5 or 5-6.
When careful with the football, Pittsburgh looks as potent as any team in the league. When the Steelers are sloppy, however, they are vulnerable. The fact they were even in the game despite giving it away four times is telling. Yet it's becoming a familiar pattern. They've led in the fourth quarter in three of their five defeats. Coming so close can lead to plenty of second guessing. Don't expect Tomlin or his players to get caught up in it though.
''You can't say that we should have done this or should have done that, everything looks right in hindsight,'' DeCastro said. ''We have to be professionals and execute the plays that are called.''
A year ago, the Steelers ripped through a perfect December to emerge from the crowded AFC North with a division title. Catching first-place Cincinnati seems unlikely this time around, though at this point Pittsburgh isn't picky. Just making it to the postseason will be enough.
''We just have to worry about ourselves and handle our business,'' Blake said. ''We've just got to win games and make plays.''
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