MIRZA ZUKIC: Near comeback doesn't mean much now
There will be those of you who will convince yourself that the Steelers’ loss in Oakland on Sunday wasn’t as bad as guys like me want to make it out to be.
You might try to find some solace in the fact that the Steelers shut out the Raiders in the second half and held them to one first down after halftime.
Or in that Pittsburgh forced three turnovers. Or in that the Steelers almost rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit.
If it helps you sleep better, then go ahead, but you might want to stop reading this right now.
I have never been greatly impressed by a team almost coming back from a big early deficit, no matter how big. A loss is a loss, whether by one point or four touchdowns.
Playing with spirit and pride after the game’s been lost is hardly impressive, and making a habit of falling behind early isn’t an ingredient for a winning formula, in any sport.
But it’s most certainly become a part of the Steelers’ makeup this season. We saw it again in the first half of Sunday’s debacle.
They gave up a 93-yard touchdown on the first play of the game; they had a punt blocked; they were 0-for-7 on third downs; they had 8 rushing yards; and the usually reliable Shaun Suisham missed a field goal in the closing seconds of the half — but only after the Steelers failed yet again to score a red-zone touchdown.
“Obviously, too many errors there early on to give ourselves a legitimate chance,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We allowed them to control and dictate the flow of the game with how we started really in all three phases. The first 30 minutes of football was poor on our part.”
Let’s not even delve into the nine-minute drive Pittsburgh had in the second half, which will be remembered by most fans for Suisham’s second missed chip shot of a field goal. But it’ll stand out to me because the Steelers again didn’t convert a red-zone opportunity.
Winning teams don’t miss those opportunities week in and week out.
That the Steelers even had the slightest of chances to pull out a miraculous win late speaks to how poor the Raiders are. But the Steelers made them look like the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in the first half. That’s not a mark of a winning team.
The NFL season is at its midway point, and it’s safe to say falling behind early has become a trend for this year’s Steelers. They’ve been trying to dig themselves out of holes all year, and I don’t see them getting out.
Again, it’s just not what winning teams do. It’s not what playoff teams do. Not on a regular basis.
The Denver Broncos (7-1) and the New England Patriots (6-2) both managed to come back from 14-point deficits Sunday, but those teams don’t put themselves in those predicaments on a weekly basis. The Steelers do, and that’s why they’re 2-5.
Like the Broncos and Patriots, the Steelers have a quarterback capable of leading such comebacks, but Pittsburgh lacks talent beyond Ben Roethlisberger to consistently come back from double-digit deficits.
Against Tennessee and Cincinnati, the Steelers had leads of 2-0 and 3-0, but they eventually fell behind by 10 or more points to both. Against Chicago and Minnesota, they trailed by 17 or more by halftime on their way to an 0-4 hole to start the year.
And then came Sunday’s showing, which might have topped them all in terms of ugliness.
Yet somehow, the Steelers were still in it until the end. A good team would have put Pittsburgh away in the third quarter. Oakland played loose and undisciplined and let the Steelers hang around even though Pittsburgh committed both of its turnovers in the second half.
“Had we been able to pull the game out, I still would have been disappointed in the quality of play in the first half,” Tomlin said.
It’s foolish to make something out of the near second-half comeback. It was only cosmetic in nature, to use my best Tomlinism.
Mirza Zukic covers the Steelers for The Indiana Gazette. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MirzaZuka.