ShareThis Page

Limping Steelers are still in hunt for postseason

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 10:50 p.m.
Dallas defensive tackle Sean Lissemore sacks Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Dallas defensive tackle Sean Lissemore sacks Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Steelers need to win two, but right now, they can't even win one.

They don't look like a playoff team. They don't sound like a playoff team. They're not playing like a playoff team should with only two weeks remaining in a season in which they can't seem to keep anyone healthy or mount any late-season momentum.

They've lost four of the past five games, deservedly or not, and they're losing cornerbacks nearly as quickly; they were down to practice-squad players and backups to backups during their 27-24 overtime loss in Dallas on Sunday.

Remarkably, they still have more than a mathematical chance of making the playoffs. If they beat the Bengals (8-6) on Sunday and the Browns (5-9) on Dec. 30, both at Heinz Field, the Steelers (7-7) are in. And, if they win both games and the Ravens (9-5) lose their final two against the Giants and Bengals on the road, the Steelers will win the AFC North.

But talk about a couple of big “ifs.”

The Steelers have won only once since Nov. 12. They've dropped their past two at home. They don't know if any of their top three cornerbacks can play against the Bengals, who've won five of the past six. And they're not running the ball with any consistency; they're on pace for their third-worst rushing season since 1970.

“We're not playing right now, and that's making our goals harder to reach,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “But we still have life. We will have to make a decision and turn this around.”

There is hope: Ben Roethlisberger's right arm, stronger than it was only a week ago in his first game in a month, appears to offer a route to the playoffs.

Roethlisberger, much sharper than he was in his comeback game against the Chargers the week before, hit deep balls — a 60-yarder to Mike Wallace — and kept plays going like he routinely did not that long ago. Once, he pump-faked three times to dodge pass rushers and get off a throw.

“The whole thing revolves around Roethlisberger,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You saw why he's regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He can extend plays, he keeps his eyes up, he's hard to tackle.”

But while his arm looks to be fine — Roethlisberger was 12 of 15 for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception from halftime on Sunday — he appeared annoyed and perplexed afterward at some of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's play calling.

Roethlisberger was unhappy that tight end Heath Miller was ignored after making five catches for 74 yards just in the second quarter. He also wanted to keep using the no-huddle in the second half after the Steelers produced 10 points quickly while running it just before halftime.

“At the end of the first half, we really were kind of getting into a lot of the no-huddle stuff, and that's when we started moving the ball and taking shots, taking the short stuff,” Roethlisberger said. “Whatever they were giving us. That's when we're at our best, and that's what we need to do.”

This was the first time all season Roethlisberger was so openly critical of the play-calling. And, coincidentally or not, he praised former coordinator Bruce Arians, now the Colts' interim coach, only a few days before.

With the Steelers truly in a must-win situation, what they don't need leading up to their most important game of the season is any publicly aired disagreement between quarterback and coordinator.

“We have to make plays in significant moments,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “And stay together. We have to stay together. If we can stay together, nobody can stop us, and we know that.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.