Despite defeat to Browns, Steelers are still in thick of playoff chase
Brian Hoyer, buckle your chinstrap.
The Steelers, who are turning over the ball nearly as rapidly as they are going through offensive linemen, spent Monday watching video of their alarming 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns, who usually beat them only during the worst of seasons. No wonder several players tweeted it was one of the longest off days they could remember at the team's South Side offices.
The question now is whether this is about to become exactly that for the Steelers (6-5), or whether the glimmer of hope that Ben Roethlisberger could return sooner rather than later from his multiple upper body injuries might be enough to salvage their season.
Even if Roethlisberger plays Sunday in Baltimore, there is no assurance that a quarterback who was in considerable discomfort this time a week ago will be a reasonable facsimile of the NFL MVP-caliber player he was before getting hurt Nov. 12 against the Chiefs.
And if he can't play — Steelers fans already are shuddering at the thought — does coach Mike Tomlin dare try a fourth quarterback is as many weeks in Hoyer, who has thrown one pass in two seasons? Byron Leftwich (ribs) can't play, and Charlie Batch was so ineffective while throwing three interceptions in Cleveland that at least one Browns player said the Steelers looked unprepared.
“I don't think they were ready to play this week,” defensive lineman Phil Taylor said. “Baltimore kind of beat them up last week (during a 13-10 Ravens win Nov. 18), and they were down to their third-string quarterback and we just had to take advantage of what they (gave) us.”
What they gave the Browns were eight turnovers, the most by any NFL team since the Rams also had eight, against the Saints, in 2001.
“It's not shaking my confidence,” linebacker James Harrison said. “My teammates are just as strong-minded as me. I don't believe it will shake their confidence.”
Remarkably, despite their ball-control problems, injury issues (Roethlisberger, Willie Colon, Antonio Brown, Mike Adams, LaMarr Woodley) and constantly rotating quarterbacks (three in three games) and running backs (four in one game), the Steelers are in reasonably good shape playoff-wise.
Even after losing to the Raiders (3-8), Browns (3-8) and Titans (4-7), they own the tie-breaker with the Bengals for the second AFC wild-card slot, and they play Cincinnati again Dec. 23.
Only the Bengals and Dolphins (5-6) are within two games of them for that second wild-card berth, and the Steelers get to play much of their December schedule at Heinz Field, where they meet the Chargers (4-7), Bengals and Browns. Their only road game in the final four weeks is Dec. 16 at Dallas.
But history also shows that when the Steelers are 6-5 or worse after 11 games, the playoffs generally elude them.
Only once in six tries during the last 20 years — in 1993, when they also were 6-5 — did the Steelers reach the playoffs after failing to have at least seven wins through 11 games. A point of reference: They lost to the Browns in four of those seasons.
The Steelers won the Super Bowl after being 7-5 in 2005, but they were 7-4 after 11 games.
“It's about fighting and getting through this hard time,” Jonathan Dwyer said. “We need to get the win (in Baltimore) for sure.”
Only 10 days ago, the Steelers could have seized the AFC North lead by beating Baltimore. But if they lose Sunday to the Ravens (9-2), they will be eliminated from the division race.
And that would be the worst takeaway from the Steelers all season.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Trade for Winnik gives Penguins competition among bottom six
- Suspect in Uniontown woman’s homicide surrenders to police
- Rossi: Pirates better with Maz on scene
- Lincoln tries to rejuvenate career in second stint with Pirates
- Drivers survive head-on crash on Route 356 in Allegheny Township
- Fast-growing Americans for Prosperity opens location in Greensburg
- Student suicide brings issue of bullying to fore in New Kensington-Arnold
- Harrison mom, boyfriend charged in abuse of young boys
- Heyl: Longtime Pirates fan has long-term designs on his favorite team
- Easter Seals merger in Pennsylvania raises ethics concerns
- Pennsylvania House pushes liquor system privatization bill through