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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Xavier Grimble's fumble cost Steelers more than a TD

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, 5:48 p.m.
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 25:  Strong safety Will Parks #34 of the Denver Broncos forces a fumble by tight end Xavier Grimble #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers near the end zone resulting in a turnover in the second quarter of a game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 25: Strong safety Will Parks #34 of the Denver Broncos forces a fumble by tight end Xavier Grimble #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers near the end zone resulting in a turnover in the second quarter of a game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Broncos strong safety Will Parks forces a fumble by Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble near the end zone resulting in a turnover and touchback in the second quarter Nov. 25, 2018, in Denver, Colo.
Broncos strong safety Will Parks forces a fumble by Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble near the end zone resulting in a turnover and touchback in the second quarter Nov. 25, 2018, in Denver, Colo.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions Sunday at Denver, the second especially regrettable.

If that damages the Steelers’ season, so be it. Roethlisberger has earned wiggle room and two Super Bowl rings.

James Conner had a big fumble. For the second time this year, Conner putting the ball on the ground arguably cost the Steelers a win.

Conner, too, gets some leeway. He’s filling big shoes with success and aplomb.

Xavier Grimble gets no such latitude.

Grimble is the No. 3 tight end. He’s lucky to be on the Steelers, or in the NFL. He plays just 16 percent of the offensive snaps. Grimble went undrafted. He’s borderline.

Grimble admits to intentionally taking on Denver safety Will Parks at the goal line when Grimble was about to score a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter: “I could have cut back and scored, but I wanted to run right through him.”

Grimble couldn’t even be bothered to switch the ball to his left arm to better shield it from impact.

If Grimble veers even slightly right, Parks’ tackle would have carried Grimble into the end zone.

Grimble outweighs Parks by nearly 70 pounds, but Parks jarred the ball loose and it went through the end zone for a touchback. The Broncos got the ball. The Steelers got no points.

The Steelers lost by a touchdown. Common sense dictates it was by that touchdown.

Grimble’s faux pas changed the game.

If Grimble scores, the trickle-down almost certainly renders moot mistakes made by Roethlisberger and Conner. That Grimble’s fumble was borne of ego dipped in machismo makes it all the worse. It set a tone for Steelers sloppiness.

It’s a mistake the No. 3 tight end can’t afford to make. It might earn a pink slip if you work for Bill Belichick.

The No. 3 wide receiver contributed a less-heralded absurdity: James Washington went unnecessarily airborne for a third-quarter pass that he dropped. If he just keeps running, the play is more easily made and he likely scores a touchdown.

I don’t want to say the Steelers are stupid. But if their brains were Crisco, they might not grease too big a pan.

But Grimble is the biggest of Sunday’s black-and-gold fools. A player of Grimble’s low stature can’t make that mistake.

The Steelers’ receiving game is in flux. Washington’s failure to develop into a legit No. 3 receiver is only part of the story.

JuJu Smith-Schuster had 13 catches at Denver, gaining 189 yards and scoring one touchdown. Antonio Brown had nine catches for 67 yards. Smith-Schuster has six games of 100 yards or more receiving this season. Brown has three. Brown’s yardage per catch is down almost three yards from 2017.

Is Brown now the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver? That’s what the statistics say, though every foe treats Brown as the No. 1 receiver in its defensive game plan. (Maybe that’s part of the problem.)

Brown is 30. Not young for a wide receiver. He frequently was seen sucking on oxygen during Sunday’s game at high-altitude Denver.

Brown is often double-covered, but that’s happened for at least five years and never kept his numbers down before.

Brown is still contributing mightily. He has 11 touchdowns, including at least one in eight consecutive games prior to Sunday’s. Brown threw a big block on Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown reception. Somewhere, Hines Ward smiled.

That loss at Denver might prove quite costly.

It’s easy to imagine the Steelers losing at least two of their last five games: At New Orleans Dec. 23 seems a certain “L” — unless that contest is meaningless to the Saints — and home games with the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England Patriots are dicey.

If the Steelers win three of their remaining five, 10-5-1 wins the AFC North but doesn’t get a bye, let alone home field. 11-4-1 might get a bye.

Getting a first-round bye might have been as simple as Grimble taking one step to the right. You can’t spell “fumble” without “Grimble.” (That’s obviously not true, but it sounds catchy.)

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays at WXDX-FM (105.9).

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