Kevin Gorman: Blame the Steelers for blowing this loss to the Chargers
Call this one whatever you want. Ben Roethlisberger called it a bad loss. Derwin James called it a big win. The officials didn’t make a call that allowed a Los Angeles Chargers touchdown, yet called two penalties that prevented the Pittsburgh Steelers from sending it to overtime.
But if you want to blame the officiating for the Chargers’ 33-30 victory over the Steelers Sunday night at Heinz Field – and there was plenty of grumbling inside the losing locker room – then you’re missing the point.
The Steelers simply blew it.
Suddenly, with a six-game winning streak followed by a two-game slump, the Steelers don’t look so Super Bowl-bound. On a night when they honored the 40 th and 10 th anniversaries of two Super Bowl champion teams, the Chargers crashed the prime-time party and spoiled the celebration.
Point the finger, if you will, at the officials for missing a blatant false start by Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi. The Steelers got caught looking for a flag, and Travis Benjamin beat Mike Hilton for a 46-yard touchdown to cut it to 13-7 in the first quarter.
“That was just a tough one,” Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said. “It looked like he false-started but we’ve got to play through the play. If he didn’t or he did, we can’t let them score on us like that.”
Point the finger, if you will, for the offsides penalties called on Haden on Michael Badgley’s 39-yard field-goal attempt that sailed wide left and again on Artie Burns after he blocked Badgley’s ensuing 34-yard field-goal attempt. Heck, the Steelers even drew a third flag on Bagley’s winning 29-yarder in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
“You can’t put any blame or point the finger,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We’ve got to point the thumb and figure out a way to win ball games without expecting flags.”
That AB is the voice of reason shows what kind of season it’s been for the Steelers. They started 1-2-1, then won six straight games but have lost the past two. This is a team that has unwavering confidence that it can pull off the fourth-quarter comeback, the way it did so many times last season. But the Steelers have failed to do that this season, first against the Browns, then the Broncos and now the Chargers.
“We always expect when there’s time on the clock that we can still win,” Haden said. “We felt that way all the way until the third field goal they took, that there would be some way we could get it to overtime and win the game. That’s one thing I love about us: We don’t think we’re going to lose until it’s 0:00.”
Problem is, the Steelers didn’t do enough to win. So much of the damage was self-inflicted in blowing a 16-point halftime advantage, including injuries that could provide challenges in the final four games. Chris Boswell missed another extra point. Roethlisberger threw another interception deep in Chargers territory. The Steelers once again didn’t force a fumble or an interception. They didn’t fully capitalize on a blocked punt when Roethlisberger missed a wide-open Justin Hunter in the end zone, and had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
And the Chargers got a touchdown on what should have been their first interception since Carolina on Nov. 8. Haden had picked off a Rivers pass in the end zone but was blasted by Steelers safety Sean Davis, causing the ball to pop into the hands of Keenan Allen for a touchdown. So, yes, a Steeler stopped the Steelers from picking off a pass in the end zone, something opponents did to the Steelers in the previous two weeks.
“That,” Haden said, “was just unlucky right there.”
That’s football. You make your own luck, and the Steelers are short on horseshoes. Yes, the officials missed Tevi’s false start and Rayshawn Jenkins blocking Brian Allen in the back on the punt return and even the spot on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s third-down catch that saw the Steelers lose a challenge and forced them to go for it on fourth-and-1.
They answered with a championship conversion.
But the Steelers also allowed an 88-yard touchdown drive, a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 79-yard touchdown drive and a 64-yard drive that led to the field goal in the second half. That’s not how a championship team protects a double-digit lead. And it’s fair to ask whether these Steelers still belong in the Super Bowl conversation.
“We know stuff like that is going to happen throughout a game and over the course of a season,” Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “You can’t accept that. You can’t say, ‘Oh, this is the reason why we lost.’ It’s not. There was plenty of plays that could have went our way, could have went the other way. This is football. Crazy stuff is going to happen. We’ve just got to roll with the punches and get the win next time.”
Until the next win, the Steelers should point the thumb and call this what it was: A bad loss, one they blew in a big way.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.