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Another late-game collapse has exposed Steelers' many woes

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 7:56 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Tennessee receiver Kenny Britt catches a touchdown pass between the Steelers' Ike Taylor and Will Allen during the fourth quarter Thursday of the Titans' 26-23 victory at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Almost indefensible.

The Steelers are offering no explanation for it, only promises it won't last all season. Still, the same breakdowns keep occurring game after game, in road stadium after road stadium, in fourth quarter after fourth quarter.

And, it can be argued, against bad opponent after bad opponent.

They can't rush the passer. They can't hold a lead. They can't stop an experienced quarterback after he gets going. They can't defend downfield. And when it's over, another apparent victory now lost, they can't find a reason for it.

There once was a time under Bill Cowher when the Steelers couldn't win the big game. Now they can't win the small one. They've lost to the Raiders (1-3) and Titans (2-3) and — this must worry them — they have two games left against the winless Browns (0-5).

Remember, this was supposed to be the soft part of the schedule.

The Steelers (2-3) dropped their fourth in a row on the road dating to their mystifying playoff loss in Denver, a 26-23 setback at Tennessee on Thursday night that seemingly defied logic given how badly the Titans were playing. At the same time, it followed the pattern of the previous two losses this season.

They owned a lead in the fourth quarter, then collapsed. In Denver, it was a 17-point collapse, in Oakland it was a 13-point collapse. In this one, the Titans — the NFL's worst defensive team and one of its worst offensive teams — scored the final 10 points.

Opposing quarterbacks are 35 of 59 for 370 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the fourth quarter while having been sacked only once.

How did it happen — or, more correctly, how does it keep happening to a defense that statistically is one of the NFL's best at No. 6 but, in reality, is playing with a fragility, uncertainty and lack of cohesion unseen in a Steelers defense in years?

“We've had breakdowns, mental (breakdowns),” linebacker Larry Foote said. “Heavyweight fighters get stronger in the late rounds or you're going to lose. We're not getting strong in the fourth quarter. If you're a champion, play good in the fourth quarter, you get off the field and get the ‘W.' We're not doing that right now.”

The Steelers' problems go beyond not having Troy Polamalu for nearly four full games, not having James Harrison for three, not forcing turnovers (only two interceptions) or pass rushing with consistency.

Against Tennessee, defensive end Ziggy Hood was invisible (his stats line was zeros across the board), while cornerback Ike Taylor was far too visible with a 25-yard pass interference penalty that resulted in a field goal and a holding call that led to Tennessee's tying touchdown. He also was called for interference on a Kenny Britt 37-yard completion.

Keenan Lewis couldn't hold onto a sure interception that would have ended a key Tennessee drive. Titans tight end Jared Cook went undefended on a 25-yard catch that led to the game-winning field goal by Rob Bironas.

Multiple players said afterward there is plenty of time to correct what is going wrong; Foote said, “Ten games from now, people will be laughing at this,”

But the more the Steelers lose, the farther they keep falling behind Baltimore (4-1) in the AFC North race, even though they have yet to play a division game.

That's a lot to get right when so much is going wrong.

“I don't know what the problem is right now, but we got the answer in this locker room,” Foote said. “I know this bunch of guys, the core guys, we hate losing. It stinks, and it hurts. But we've all been there at one point, looked it in the face and attacked it.

“We got to correct it.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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