Kovacevic: Playing blame game? Follow it to the top
OAKLAND, Calif. — This was all Shaun Suisham's fault.
Simple math shows that his two missed kicks accounted for all the difference in the Steelers' 21-18 loss to the Raiders on Sunday, right?
As a red-eyed Suisham was telling us at his stall, “We'd have won the football game if I was better.”
Yep. The kicker who hadn't missed a kick all season blew it.
No, I take that back. This was all Ben Roethlisberger's fault.
What was he thinking throwing away that timeout on the penultimate drive when a spike would suffice?
“The timeout's important,” he tried to explain, not all that firmly. “But so is the 5 yards for a team that's struggling to score touchdowns.”
Absurd, of course. The quarterback let down his team.
Actually, the real culprits were LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Clark and, oh, maybe seven teammates, all being sucked to the right — call it Oakland's second Black Hole — as Terrelle Pryor sprinted the other way for a 93-yard touchdown on the opening snap.
Woodley, in particular, went all day without a single tackle.
“We need to do better,” Woodley said.
Sure, if by “we,” he means Clark.
I mean there's biting on a fake, then there's swallowing and digesting a fake. Clark might still be roaming the old corridors of O.co Coliseum in search of a football-free Darren McFadden.
“You'd like for the middle-of-the-field safety to be a little patient there,” Clark said in his own third-person way.
Good thing for Antonio Brown's two second-half drops, anyway, to take the heat off him. Those were the killers.
“Oakland made good plays both times,” Brown fairly whispered, “but I know I've got to hang on to those.”
Well, so does the punter. Zoltan Mesko had one blocked when he failed to catch a snap and muffed another so badly it should get him demoted from junior varsity to unemployment.
OK, I'll stop there.
But the truth is, I could continue carrying on in this vein all day through next Sunday, and it wouldn't change the following: The Steelers are one poorly prepared, poorly built football team.
And that — for real this time — is on Mike Tomlin.
“Obviously, we made too many errors early to give ourselves a legitimate chance,” he said to open his postgame news conference. “The first 30 minutes of football was poor on our part, and I take responsibility for that.”
Good. Because that's ultimately — not wholly, but at the end of the equation — where it belongs.
The ugliest of truths to this loss is that, for all the nitpicking and focus on individuals, all those examples above are nothing new. They happen every Sunday. They happen against every level of opponent. They happen on the West Coast, in the Eastern Hemisphere and all points in between.
The Steelers arrived here 2-4 with some small momentum after winning the past two and a looming schedule of unattractive opponents. This could have been — no, should have been against the 2-4 Raiders — a springboard.
And they responded with the same mistakes, the same Brand X play-calling, even a palpable lack of passion when compared to their counterparts.
They got exactly what they deserved.
I asked Tomlin afterward if he felt the Steelers were ready.
“Well, the reality is, the proof is in the pudding,” he replied. “We didn't perform well in all three phases, so I took responsibility for that.”
He did. And again, good for him.
But what does that do about this flawed roster that Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have built over the past few years and some seriously vacant drafts?
What does that do about opting to fly out here the day before the game when that clearly had an effect in London?
What does that do about the lack of discipline in more pre-snap penalties?
What does that do about running 18 plays inside the Oakland 25 and Todd Haley calling for exactly one throw into the end zone?
What does that do about getting the ball with 1:55 left in the first half, down 21-3, and opening with a run up the gut — or rather back down the gut for minus-1 yard — by Felix Jones?
And what does that do, in the name of all that is holy, about the eleventy billion wide receiver screens?
Here, too, I could do this all week. But it's so much easier to lay it all on the kicker, so let's just go back to that.