Tim Benz: Don't kid yourself. Steelers were more than 'a few plays away.'
It was maddening, wasn't it?
Viewing the NFL playoffs this weekend with no Pittsburgh Steelers game on the ledger.
Watching the Houston Texans get whitewashed at home. Seeing the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens trade special teams gaffes and squandered offensive opportunities. Witnessing the Colts get shut out in the second half, yet win anyway.
The Steelers could've beaten any of those teams, right?
Or maybe they would've just lost at home again to the Chargers like they did earlier this season.
As Mike Tomlin might say, "You can paint whatever picture you want."
Well, the 2018 season kind of looked like a Jackson Pollock creation. Paint splattered on a canvas creating a confusing, chaotic image.
Little known fact: That Pollock piece is actually entitled "Steelers lose in Oakland."
The low-hanging rationalization is that the Steelers were a playoff-worthy team that simply endured a few bad breaks.
"There were some (games) we definitely should have won, but a couple plays here and there, that's all it takes in the NFL. You never know when they're coming," guard David DeCastro told Steelers.com.
There's been a lot of that explanation in Pittsburgh over the last week. From players, fans, some of the "team friendly" members of the media.
"The Steelers were just a few plays away."
We all know those plays.
• Chris Boswell's field-goal slip in Oakland
• The pass interference calls in New Orleans
• The missed false start against the Chargers
• Xavier Grimble's fumble around the pylon in Denver
• James Conner's fumble at Cleveland in the opening week
Don't buy that. Don't let the Steelers off the hook that easily.
For every one of those plays, there were a series of Steelers unfortunate events that allowed those games to be decided by those moments.
• Blowing a fourth-quarter lead and keeping Ben Roethlisberger on the bench in Oakland
• Allowing the Saints to convert a third-and-20 and trying a dumb fake punt. (It was dumb, no matter how hard Mike Tomlin apologists try to defend the decision)
• Blowing a 16-point second-half lead against the Chargers
• Roethlisberger's two interceptions in Denver
• Twelve penalties and five other turnovers in Cleveland
That's more than a few plays. That's a season's worth of miscues. And that's how teams with only two losses on Thanksgiving end up missing the playoffs.
It wasn't a few plays here and there. It was a bushel of tragic errors and rotten coaching decisions.
The Bears didn't leave the field defeated last night just because of Cody Parkey's "double-doink" field goal miss.
They are at home because they allowed a 12-play, fourth-quarter touchdown drive with the season on the line.
The Ravens season isn't over exclusively because of Lamar Jackson's fumble on the team's final possession. They are golfing now because of Jackson's other turnover. And Kenneth Dixon's fumble. And Justin Tucker's rare field-goal miss.
This narrative of "these Steelers were just a few plays away" stinks. Frankly, it's dangerous to advance. It makes people think that changes aren't necessary. It softens the blow of a season with potential going tragically awry.
I laugh when I hear that notion advanced. I wonder what people would've said in January 2018 when the Steelers were 13-3. What if I had advanced a theory to the tune of, "C'mon. They aren't that good. They are just a few plays away from being 9-7!"
I would've been laughed out of the room.
However, if that thinking is true this year as we attempt to mollify this team's failure, then it's similarly appropriate to marginalize its success last year. After all, they had eight wins by less than a touchdown and four by a field goal or less.
So, if they were "just unlucky because of a few bad breaks" in 2018, then they were "just lucky because of a few good breaks" in 2017.
The Jacksonville playoff finale would certainly suggest so.
Much like the results for the Bears, Ravens, Texans, and Seattle Seahawks, the final scores don't lie. Those teams are one-and-done in the playoffs and deserving of whatever criticism they are receiving today as a result.
The Steelers are none-and-done. Let's avoid giving them "a get out of jail free" card just because it makes ourselves feel better to obscure the reality of their collapse.