Kevin Gorman: Steelers need to win the fourth quarter of the season
The Pittsburgh Steelers break the regular season into four quarters, and they enter the final four-game stretch clinging to a half-game lead in the AFC North Division and the fourth seed in the conference.
With games at Oakland on Sunday, at home against the New England Patriots, at the New Orleans Saints and at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers might need to do more than to play “Renegade” to get Terrible Towels waving for a playoff run.
“It’s the fourth quarter of the season. We know how important that is,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “You need to be playing your best football in December going into January. This is a big stretch for us, and we’re playing some really good football teams … good ones at home and good ones on the road.”
What the Steelers need to do is play their best football in the fourth quarter of the fourth quarter. That’s been a problem so far, as the quarters of their season have mirrored the quarters of their games.
They scored only six points in the first quarter of the first four games, when the Steelers started 1-2-1. They dominated the second quarter of the next four games, outscoring opponents 66-3 in four consecutive victories. The third quarter saw a split, with wins over the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars followed by losses to the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.
The Steelers haven’t been a great fourth-quarter team, despite dramatic, last-minute comeback wins at Cincinnati and Jacksonville. Opponents have outscored the Steelers in the fourth quarter of five games this season, by a combined total of 99-75.
“You want to win every fourth quarter, regardless. That’s always the most important quarter of the game,” Roethlisberger said. “For us, we have to go out and play great in this fourth quarter because it carries over into the postseason, if you have a chance. We always say, ‘Peak at the right time.’ ”
Roethlisberger knows as well as anyone the key to peaking at the right time involves not throwing picks at the wrong time. He has thrown more interceptions (13) than the Steelers have takeaways (12), and their minus-8 turnover ratio ranks tied for 26th in the NFL.
“For me personally, it’s just taking care of the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “You can’t turn it over. You have to take care of the ball just like you would in the postseason. Every mistake is magnified. I approach these last four games like they’re the first four games of the postseason.
“Turnovers are the key to football games, both ways. You’ve got to get them, and you have to keep from giving them up.”
The Steelers have done the opposite the past two games. Against the Broncos, Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone to end a last-minute rally. Against the Chargers, a collision in the end zone between cornerback Joe Haden and safety Sean Davis prevented a pick that instead popped into the hands of Keenan Allen for a touchdown.
The Steelers know if those two plays turn out differently, they could be 9-2-1 and in position for the AFC’s second seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Haden believes the Steelers are “super close” to forcing turnovers and is impressed how they are accustomed to playing for and in the postseason.
“The one thing that you realize here is they’re so used to playoff football,” Haden said. “The season’s never over. The playoffs are always coming. The regular season is a season in itself, then the postseason is another season. We have that mindset that we’re still building for something, that we’re always at the end of the season going to have more football to play.”
The Steelers still have the fourth quarter to play. They have put themselves in position where they don’t have to be perfect, but they do need to be at their best to pass this awesome test.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.