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Week 13: If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying

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Tomlin Sideline Jones Jumps BackBaltimore

The Pittsburgh Steelers playoff hopes sustained a crushing, possibly fatal blow on Thanksgiving with a 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, the big story coming out of the game – at least outside of Pittsburgh – are the actions of head coach Mike Tomlin. The Ratbirds won so their trademark whining has been mostly replaced by jokes and sarcastic comments about Tomlin standing on the field just long enough to interfere with Jacoby Jones 73 yard kickoff return early in the third quarter.

Although it didn’t stop Terrell Suggs for providing me the title of this post when asked his thoughts on the Tomlin Two-Step: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying to win.”

Make no mistake, Coach T’s little move could very well have cost the Ravens dearly. Instead of a touchdown, Jones getting re-routed into the field of play provided just enough of an angle for a hustling Cortez Allen to bring him down. The Steelers D stiffened from there, forcing a field goal. In a rivalry where nearly every game is decided by 3 points or less, that four point swing could’ve been critical.

As it was, it just set up a heartbreaking goal line stand where the Steelers literally – or damn near – killed themselves trying to force overtime.

Allen got beat for a 54 yard bomb on the fifth play of the game. The Ravens scored their first and only touchdown a few plays later. From then on, it was death by paper cuts as the rest of Baltimore’s offense fell to kicker Justin Tucker. When a freakin’ kicker is enjoying the Celebratory Turkey Leg at the end of the game, something went horribly horribly wrong.

I can’t really decide how to grade the Steelers defensive performance. They allowed only one touchdown and five field goals so as far as limiting damage, they were good. But those field goals weren’t the result of turnovers or losing the field position battle, Baltimore drove for almost every one of them. The D had a terrible time getting off the field on third down (Baltimore was 10 for 17), only stiffening after the Ravens were well within field goal range. Throw in zero turnovers and really only one person – the unblockable Jason Worilds, who had 2 sacks – consistently pressuring Joe Flacco and it’s hard to say they played well despite being the definition of bend but don’t break.

The Steelers probably would’ve been fine with that defensive performance had the offense not pissed away the entire first half on granddaddy’s football. Le’Veon Bell had the game of his career, perhaps not on the stat sheet but in terms of impacting the game with big plays. He had a 43 yard rush and a 29 yard catch and run, both of which would result in second half touchdowns. And I’ll refrain from jokingly calling him “Future Hall of Famer” from here on out as he earned everyone’s respect after getting knocked the f#%k out – but still holding on to the ball – on that crazy goal line stand.

However, the Steelers spent WAY too much time in the first half trying to establish a running game that the Ravens were keyed to stop. After piling up over 120 yards in the first meeting, I get why they’d try that but at some point you have to see it’s not working and adjust. They kept trying to ground and pound the Ravens and got nothing but a botched Shaun Suisham field goal to show for it.

In the second half, the Steelers went – SURPRISE – no huddle and immediately began moving the ball. After three punts and a blown FG in the first two quarters, the Black and Gold would score touchdowns on three of four possessions over the last quarter and a half. The offensive line, left tackle Kelvin Beachum in particular, did a fantastic job keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean. The vaunted Ratbird pass rush had ZERO SACKS. This allowed Big Ben to play a brilliant game, scrambling when necessary, extending plays, and making some big time throws.

While it’s hard to grade the Steelers D, it’s fairly easy to identify the Goat of the Game. No, it’s not Suisham for inexplicably missing a snap count that may have cost them a field goal. Nor was it Cortez Allen, who got burned for that one big play. His hustling on the kickoff is enough to make up for that. I’m not even going to blame Todd Haley, who I don’t hate nearly as much as the average Yinzer but definitely waited FAR FAR too long to let Ben call plays in the no-huddle.

If the Steelers eventually miss the playoffs, we have Emmanuel Sanders to thank.

Yes, Manny did manage to catch the Steelers first touchdown when he was left all alone in the back of the end zone as Ben was scrambling around. However, he dropped two absolutely crucial passes. All together, Sanders was targeted 11 times and only came down with 6 catches. Sure, a few were uncatchable but he dropped one sure touchdown and he for damn sure dropped the two point conversion that would’ve sent the game into overtime.

The more I see Sanders play, the more I wonder why the Steelers didn’t take that third from New England.

It’s a pity he couldn’t make that catch, too, because that goal line sequence could’ve been remembered as one for the ages.. The Steelers succeeded in going 60 yards in 8 plays all the way down to the Baltimore 20. That’s when then insanity started. Actually, it started a bit earlier when LT Kelvin Beachum limped off the field.

Ben hit Heath Miller – who finally looked like the Heath of old – for what was initially ruled a TD. The play was reversed because his elbow hit down at the one foot line. After a failed goal line plunge on 1st and goal, Beachum’s replacement Mike Adams hobbled off the field. So now we were down to Guy Whimper at left tackle. On second down, we went to Bell again and he nearly got his head taken off trying to get in the end zone.

Unfortunately, his helmet did fly off and by some idiotic technicality, the play was blown dead – say it with me – one foot short. On third down, Ben hit fullback Will Johnson on a quick screen that Johnson dropped. So on fourth down, they ran the exact same play but with the guy who knows how to catch TD, Jerricho Cotchery. After the Cotch Rocket pulled the Steelers within two, they ran an end zone come backer that worked in so far as Sanders came back for it. If not for the pesky little detail of actually CATCHING THE BALL, the game would’ve gone to overtime.

Despite Collinsworth’s idiotic cackling, yesterday was not an elimination game. The loss does put the Steelers in a pretty right position, though. The AFC’s second Wild Card is going to be either 9-7 or 8-8, with the safe bet being the latter. Assuming 9-7 gets in, the Steelers will have to run the table which is definitely doable. The best part is 3 of their last 4 are AFC opponents meaning not only would winning out put them in some sort of tie, it’d likely give them the conference record tiebreak. If 8-8 makes the playoffs – not all that unrealistic – the Steelers can only afford a loss to Green Bay. Basically no matter how you slice it, they MUST beat the Dolphins next week and the Bengals in prime time the week after or it’s truly over.

At least Mike Tomlin didn’t go down without a fight.