Steelers fall to 0-4 with loss in London to Vikings
LONDON — Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and, it must have seemed like, London bridge all came falling down on the Steelers on one fateful day that might force the kind of changes the most patient of franchises never makes.
The Steelers' modus operandi is to proceed deliberately, don't make hasty personnel decisions, do things orderly and properly — a British-like approach if there is such a thing in pro sports.
But considering their first London calling turned into a London falling that dragged them to early-season depths not seen in 45 years, the Steelers might be ready to ditch their slow-go approach.
Coach Mike Tomlin apparently has seen enough following a 34-27 loss to the previously winless Vikings (1-3) at a raucous Wembley Stadium that kept the Steelers winless for 2013, counting their four preseason games. He's promising changes, and soon, now that the Steelers have only a less-than-miniscule chance of reaching the playoffs following their first 0-4 start since 1968.
“Right now you could say we're the worst team in the league,” Ben Roethlisberger said.
Consider this: In three of the four seasons from 2008-11, the Steelers lost only four games ALL season.
“We're going to focus on getting better,” said Tomlin, whose team wasted Le'Veon Bell's first two NFL touchdown runs and a stirring fourth-quarter comeback. “That's what's going to change the outcomes of these football games. Those that don't aren't going to be a part of us. … It's that simple.”
Ike Taylor knows what that means, too — even if it doesn't occur until after the season.
“If you don't win ballgames, it's going to be a clearance sale,” Taylor said.
Being 0-4 is so incomprehensible for the Steelers players that they struggled for words to describe it. Just as they struggled to explain how Adrian Peterson could run for 140 yards, how Allen could manhandle Mike Adams for 21⁄2 sacks by halftime, how Matt Cassel — Matt Cassel! — could throw for 248 yards and two scores.
How a team that lost to the Browns the week before opened leads of 10-0, 17-7 and 34-17.
“I am embarrassed,” safety Ryan Clark said.
“It's disheartening,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “It's breathtaking.”
“We all need to assess ourselves,” safety Troy Polamalu said.
No doubt the Steelers will do more internal reassessing, reevaluating and looking in the mirror than they have during any recent bye week.
Only one team started a season 0-4 and made the playoffs, the 1992 Chargers.
“It's disheartening to be in the position we're in,” Brown said. “We've got to find a way to turn it around. We got to continue to play. We can't buy into the odds. We got to stay wired in and focused to get this turned around.”
But what would represent a turnaround? With 12 games remaining, the Steelers must go 8-4 just to finish 8-8, which they did in 2012, a season so disappointing it led to a massive importing of rookie talent. It's difficult to imagine what changes could result from a 4-12 season, for example.
The last time the Steelers dropped their first four, 1968, they went on to lose their first six and finish 2-12. That led to the hiring of coach Chuck Noll and the drafting of Joe Greene with the No. 4 overall pick.
Their latest loss was so deflating — general manager Kevin Colbert's face was long and drawn, and others in the front office looked very troubled — that the Steelers talked little afterward about the remarkable 8,000-mile round-trip journey to London. Wembley began rocking hours before the game, and the fans matched any in the United States for enthusiasm, noise and excitability.
“It was amazing,” Brown said.
So was their comeback. Almost.
Down by 17 points at the start of the fourth quarter, they were in position to tie it after Roethlisberger drove them to the 6-yard line in the final minute. But Roethlisberger then spiked the ball on first down, threw it away on second down and fumbled while being sacked by defensive end Everson Griffen on third down. The 11th Steelers turnover of the season decided it as the Vikings recovered.
The Steelers were coming off a 40-23 loss to the Bears in which they fell behind 24-3. This time they fell behind by as many as 17 points as Cassel (16 of 25, 248 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) repeatedly hooked up with receivers Jerome Simpson (seven catches, 124 yards) and Greg Jennings (three catches, 92 yards) and Peterson scored on runs of 60 and 7 yards against a defense that had allowed only 10 100-yard rushers in the past 10 years.
Cassel, starting for the injured Christian Ponder, entered the game with a 1-2 record and a 44 percent pass completion rate against the Steelers.
The key sequence came in the third quarter after Cassel hit Simpson for 51 yards. Peterson gained 25 yards in the next four plays, blowing through a hole to score from the 7 and make it 27-17.
Roethlisberger then threw a pass directly into the hands of linebacker Chad Greenway, who added a sack later in the game. That led to Cassel's 16-yard scoring pass to Jennings and a 34-17 Vikings lead with 4:11 left in the third. The Steelers scored the next 10 points to get back into it.
Jennings also had a 70-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter in which he eluded Cortez Allen and William Gay before outracing the rest of the Steelers to the end zone.
Blair Walsh kicked field goals of 54 and 37 yards.
Roethlisberger went 36 of 51 for 383 yards, a touchdown and two more turnovers. He said if Tomlin is looking to make changes based on performance, “I'd start with me.”
“We have to believe we are part of something special,” Roethlisberger said. “If you don't believe it, you don't belong here.”
The Steelers now have two weeks to decide who belongs — and doesn't — on a team that's starting to set records for all the wrong reasons. No matter the setting, the city, the country or the continent.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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