Steelers toss away lead, game against Cowboys
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Steelers overcame a secondary that was patched together from series to series and, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said during a bit of post-game defiance, some plays they knew couldn't work.
Still, they were right there with a chance to win a game they had no business of winning. But in an ending that came almost as quickly in overtime as Tim Tebow's season-ending play 11 months ago, the Steelers couldn't overcome themselves.
They couldn't overcome a fumble by Antonio Brown, a couple of sacks when they had a chance to win it, a questionable decision by Brown on a bouncing punt or a pass Roethlisberger regretted as soon as he threw it.
Add that to a 10-point deficit on the road and a quarterback who went nearly 20 minutes without throwing an incompletion, and that's too much to overcome for a team that now has zero margin for error after losing to the Cowboys, 27-24, in overtime Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
The Steelers (7-7) must beat the Bengals (8-6) next week at Heinz Field and the Browns (5-9) there the week after or their season could end before the postseason begins. Winning their final two games is their best chance to make the playoffs.
“We win the last two, we're in the tournament, but we've got to get it going and got to get it going fast,” said Mike Wallace, who made four catches for 95 yards. “We've got to win two at home. The good thing is it's the same as it was before we came here. We control our own destiny.”
The Steelers lost because, after rebounding from a 10-0 deficit to lead 24-17 on Roethlisberger's 7-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 12:37 remaining, they couldn't control the ball.
With a chance to build on their lead, Brown carelessly allowed Victor Butler to punch the ball away while running by him on a 22-yard punt return, and the Cowboys quickly tied it at 24 on DeMarco Murray's surprise 3-yard run on a passing situation.
“It was just careless,” Brown said. “You have to protect the ball in the open field.”
Protect the lead, too.
Even with their top three cornerbacks — Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen — injured and out, the Steelers forced a Cowboys punt. But Brown declined to field a bouncing ball, letting it roll 17 yards longer than it should have.
“After the fumble, I got a little lax back there,” Brown said.
Despite that, the Steelers were a first down away from a possible Shaun Suisham game-winning field goal attempt, only to have Roethlisberger get sacked on successive plays for 16 yards in losses.
“It's disappointing we weren't able to put some positive plays together and kick it through the uprights,” Heath Miller said.
It ended quickly in overtime. Roethlisberger didn't step hard into a throw intended for Wallace, and Brandon Carr returned the interception 36 yards to the 1. Dan Bailey kicked an extra point-length field goal to win it two plays later.
Romo was 30 of 42 for 341 yards and two touchdowns and was unstoppable during the midpoint of the game, yet a secondary made up of Robert Golden, Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown turned aside drive after drive late in the game.
Roethlisberger (24 of 40, 339 yards, two touchdowns), much better than he was in returning from a three-game injury layoff the week before, didn't question the effort or heart of a team that generally finishes strong but now has lost four of five.
However, for the first time, he openly questioned Todd Haley's play calls. Asked why Miller (seven catches, 92 yards) didn't see the ball late, he said, “I don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”
He also said it was “disappointing” to get out of the no-huddle that was working. And he also said he and Miller improvised on their 30-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half because, “The play that was called wasn't a good play at all against a prevent defense. So we started making a play.”
Apparently, it's not just the rest of the league that's questioning why a team as talented as the Steelers is clinging to their playoff life. So are the Steelers themselves.
Now there's no argument what they must to reach the playoffs: Win.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.