Steelers' special teams failures contribute to loss
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, 9:57 p.m.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham was living the dream after kicking a last-second field goal to defeat AFC North rival Baltimore. But he followed that effort with a nightmarish performance in a 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Suisham connected from 47 yards in the second quarter — his 15th consecutive converted field goal, matching a career high — to trim Oakland's lead to 14-3. But misses from 34 and 32 yards significantly impacted an outcome that dropped the Steelers to 2-5 and dimmed their already-slim playoff chances.
“We lost today because I failed to do my job,” a dejected Suisham said. “My job is to make field goals, and I didn't do that today.
“A miss is a miss. I'm not going to make excuses. We lost because of me.”
Perhaps the most damaging miss was the 32-yarder with 5:54 left in the third quarter with the Steelers trailing 21-3. The wayward attempt, coupled with the Steelers chewing up 9 minutes, 11 seconds off the clock, proved damaging down the stretch with time on the Raiders' side.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, hounded by a relentless Oakland pass rush, sought to comfort Suisham afterward.
“I talked to him and told him to keep his head up because he's our guy,” Roethlisberger said. “I'll bet the house he's going to make it every time he kicks it no matter where we are on the field.”
The usually reliable Suisham has been most vulnerable on attempts inside 35 yards. Two of his three failed attempts came against Cincinnati last December, including a miss from 28 yards.
“It was one of those days, but I know when he lines up he's going to make it most times,” Roethlisberger said. “I don't like to talk about any group because offensively we weren't good enough.”
Roethlisberger tossed two interceptions and was sacked five times behind a sputtering offensive line. But a blocked punt, inadequate kick returns (except a 44-yard punt return by Antonio Brown) and spotty punt coverage put the Steelers in a deep hole in the first half.
“We dug ourselves in a hug, and it's been the story of our season,” Roethlisberger said, “and we dug ourselves in a hole this game.”
Still, receiver Jerricho Cotchery refused to let Suisham and the special teams take all of the blame for the Steelers losing in Oakland for the second year in a row.
“In a loss like this you can't have one guy shouldering the blame,” Cotchery said. “Hopefully, we can find something in to gain some success moving forward.”
“This is certainly a team sport. Sometimes, everyone has to share the blame. If you point the finger at one guy – or one unit – then you overlook other mistakes. So, everyone has to get better so we can get off to a faster start than we did today.”
The Raiders sprinted out of the box when quarterback Terrelle Pryor gutted the Steelers' defense with a 93-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Steelers' backs weren't off the canvas before Oakland running back Rashard Jennings blocked a Zoltan Mesko punt.
The Steelers' special teams failures were complete when Jennings cleanly gloved Mesko's onside kick with 1:24 left in the game. Then Brown was cut down for a 2-yard loss on a punt return with 18 seconds left at the Steelers' 3-yard line to leave Roethlisberger with only a wing and a prayer to force overtime.
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