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Distracted Steelers show nothing in loss to Eagles

| Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — They kept the starters in until deep into the third quarter, not that it mattered. The Steelers never were into this game — mentally, physically or emotionally.

Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount played as if nothing happened the day before on McKnight Road, and the rest of the Steelers followed Thursday night by making sure nothing happened on the field, either.

There have been worse preseason performances — at least by margin of defeat — in the Steelers' 81-year history, but this 31-21 loss to the high-tempo Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field was about as miserable, desultory and discouraging as it gets.

Don't let the final score fool you. Neither the game nor the Steelers were competitive.

“We're very disappointed,” rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “Nobody wants anybody to score 31 points on you. I felt they just ran up and down on us.”

Were the Steelers distracted, or discouraged, by the marijuana possession charges filed against Blount and Bell for an incident that occurred barely an hour before they flew to Philadelphia on Wednesday?

Blount and Bell both apologized.

“I'm sorry for the distraction I caused my team. I just want to apologize to my team, to the coach and the organization for causing that distraction,” Blount said.

“I'm sorry to be a distraction to the team but I'm only going to answer football questions now,” Bell said.

Oh, there were a lot of them, too.

But first, the question everybody in Pittsburgh wants answered: Will coach Mike Tomlin discipline Bell and Blount before the NFL disciplinary procedure runs its course?

“That conduct is detrimental to our efforts. It will be dealt with appropriately,” Tomlin said. “But I didn't view it as punishment to send them home, to not play a preseason game. I'd rather them to play more than remove them from game.

“That's why we took the stance we took tonight, and obviously we've got some things to do in regards to moving forward. But not a lot regarding it (to say) at this point in time.”

Cornerback Ike Taylor said the Steelers — and Bell and Blount — need to prove they can rebound from this.

“You can raise your kid and try to instill your morals in them, but it's like a crap shoot. Is the kid going to go the other way or stick to your morals?” Taylor said. “A little adversity through life is either going to build a person or tear them down.”

Or were there other explanations for the miserable execution, the multiple sacks, the fumbles, the lack of a pass rush, all the punts and so many flying yellow flags it seemed as if Ed Hochuli's officiating crew was carrying Terrible Towels?

No doubt Tomlin was wondering all of the above during a nightmarish effort when nearly everything that could go wrong did, and his team tested negative for any perceptible on-field positives.

Tomlin planned to play his starters until halftime, but they performed so badly while being outscored 17-0 and outgained 251-96 in the first half – in addition to committing seven penalties – that he kept them in until they finally found the end zone on Ben Roethlisberger's 27-yard pass to Heath Miller with only 4:07 left in the third.

The starting defense gave up 31 points and 372 yards.

“It was probably an ugly game to look at at home,” Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger was especially off his game. So sharp while throwing two touchdowns passes in the first quarter Saturday against the Bills, in the Steelers' only preseason win since 2012, he was only 8 of 17 in the first half and 15 of 24 for 157 yards overall and an interception, with much of the yardage coming on the TD drive against Eagles backups.

Finding someone in the black jerseys who played well was difficult. Shazier, so fast and dominating against the Bills, had trouble defending the Eagles' tight ends as quarterback Nick Foles drive his offense to two early touchdowns.

Former Pitt star LeSean McCoy finished off a crisply executed 80-yard, 11 play with a 22-yard screen pass touchdown, then left with an apparently not-serious right thumb injury. It was only the second touchdown in the Eagles starters' first nine preseason drives.

Foles, running the no-huddle at a tempo that Roethlisberger would love to replicate, then went 6 of 6 for 55 yards on a 13-play drive finished off by Darren Sproles' 1-yard scoring dash.

The Eagles' offense didn't stop even after their starters were pulled – and Pittsburgh's stayed on the field.

Mark Sanchez – yes, that Mark Sanchez – led touchdown drives of 80 and 60 yards to make it 31-7 in the third quarter as Tomlin refused to pull his defensive starters. Both drives were finished off by 1-yard touchdown runs from Matthew Tucker.

Tomlin railed about the penalties during a brief TV interview at halftime, but all the yellow flags weren't the worry. Rather, it was all the red flags this awful-as-it-gets preseason performance raised with the season — and Brian Hoyer — now only two weeks off.

A preseason that now seems destined to be remembered not just for the lack of drives on the field, but for one that occurred on a North Hills highway.

“This journey, this season will not be without its bumps and bruises, and I'm interested to seeing how this group responds to this performance,” Tomlin said.

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