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MIRZA ZUKIC: Steelers are still in it

by on November 29, 2013 11:00 AM

Even as seemingly all the pieces around him were dropping like dominoes, and touchdowns were being overturned like it was a new fad, Ben Roethlisberger found a way to finish the drive. He found some way to guide the Pittsburgh Steelers into the end zone with less than two minutes to play and put them in position to tie the Thanksgiving game against heated division rival Baltimore.

Two called touchdowns on the field were overturned, leaving the Steelers at the half-yard line both times.

Rookie Le’Veon Bell, who’s played a significant role in the Steelers’ 5-3 stretch after an 0-4 start, was one of the two players who had a touchdown taken away and worse yet, he suffered a concussion on the play after taking a vicious hit that appeared to knock him out.

On the next play, center Fernando Velasco went out with an injury, leaving seldom-used Cody Wallace to snap the ball to Roethlisberger. No big deal. It’s only the most important moment of the game.

This was with left tackle Kelvin Beachum already on the sidelines injured.

Still, Roethlisberger shrugged it all off to find Jerricho Cotchery for a 1-yard touchdown and get the Steelers within 22-20 with just over a minute to play. It was impressive.

Of course, Emmanuel Sanders dropped Roethlisberger’s pass on the ensuing two-point conversion, and the Steelers’ playoff hopes took a big blow as the ball hit the turf to seal the Steelers’ 22-20 loss Thursday night.

But there was something to be said about the way Roethlisberger overcame one setback after another to nearly bring the Steelers back from a 13-0 deficit. This was the next-to-last-ranked red-zone offense in the Steelers we’re talking about, and they managed to break the Baltimore Ravens’ No. 1-ranked red-zone defense.

That last touchdown wrapped up a 3-for-3 day for the Steelers in red-zone efficiency, impressive considering the opponent.

Yet, the Steelers took a huge step backwards, going from being one of the frontrunners for the final AFC playoff spot to the back of the pack looking in. The hole they’ve been digging out of since a disastrous September just got a little deeper again, and it would appear the Steelers need to win their four remaining games to have any shot at the playoffs.

The schedule looks favorable for such an accomplishment, with the Dolphins, Bengals, Packers and Browns remaining for Pittsburgh. And the Steelers have done it before, winning the final four games of the regular season in 2005 to sneak into the playoffs before riding the momentum to a Super Bowl title.

Even so, a 9-7 record might not be enough to secure a postseason berth this year.

But despite Thursday’s loss, and all the injuries, the Steelers are a hot team and I wouldn’t want to see them on my schedule in the last month of the season.

As Steelers players have repeated game after game this season, they’re not giving up, and it sure looks that way even as they put their third-stringers forth to do battle.

There seems to be something about the Steelers that brings out the best in them when the situation is most dire. Like their defensive performance against Buffalo after the catastrophe in New England. Or like the second-half performance at home two weeks ago when they shut out the Lions after a 27-point second quarter.

I look for more of the same from them in the final month of the regular season. The Steelers aren’t out of this thing yet.



Mirza Zukic is a sports writer that primarily covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and is the Gazette's track and field beat writer.
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