LOSING IN EMBARRASSING FASHION
Facing a 2-8 Cleveland Browns team that has been in several close games this season, it was easy to imagine the Steelers suffering a loss in Cleveland on Sunday with the team starting Charlie Batch but no one could have imagined the way Pittsburgh lost,in their 20-14 loss to the Browns on Sunday afternoon; 8 TURNOVERS
Charlie Batch threw three interceptions and the Steelers lost five fumbles as Pittsburgh turned the ball over a stunning 8 times in the loss, suffering what was one of the top three to five losses in the Mike Tomlin era. We might have three of them this season (CLE, TEN, OAK).
Rashard Mendenhall (2 fumbles), Chris Rainey (2 fumbles), Emmanuel Sanders (2 fumbles), Isaac Redman (1 fumble) and Jonathan Dwyer (1 fumble) combined for 8 fumbles (5 lost) and it was fitting that the Steelers last play of the game was an Emmanuel Sanders fumble. Seeing all four running backs unable to secure the ball was unbelievable to watch. Cleveland scored 17 points off of turnovers.
“When you turn the ball over the way we did, you’re not going to beat anybody,” Tomlin said. “We were highly penalized. When you do those things, you’re going to lose I don’t care who is playing quarterback.”
Given the turnover portions between the two teams, it was a miracle the game was so close.
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS
Pittsburgh’s embarrassing loss was devastating to any slim division title hopes as the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) now hold a three game lead and can officially eliminate the Steelers from title contention on Sunday. Anyone who thinks the division is still a shot even with a win in Baltimore next Sunday, needs to get the homer goggles off.
Meanwhile, I give no wildcard team a chance to go into New England or Denver and win, if things hold up as they are with the Texans (10-1) and Ravens holding the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the conference. The loss also gives the Steelers five conference losses which could come back to haunt them come playoff time for a wildcard spot.
However, the good news on Sunday was that Baltimore’s win actually helped the Steelers. The Ravens win over San Diego has pretty much set up a three team race for the final two wildcard spots between Indianapolis (7-4), Pittsburgh (6-5) and Cincinnati (6-5).
THE BAD FROM CLEVELAND
*Charlie Batch – Batch showed why the coaching staff has always regarded Byron Leftwich as a superior backup quarterback. What really stood out with Batch’s poor performance was the bad decisions and most notably his struggles to make several routine throws. With Charlie you could always count on him to make routine plays but he just can’t make routine plays anymore. Batch was 20 of 34 for 199 yards with no touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Batch averaged just 5.9 yards per throw and posted a quarterback rating of 38.7. “I have to put it on my shoulders,” Batch said. “We had a chance to win, actually two, and I turned it over. Can’t do that. I made some bad throws. We had all the fumbles, and yet we still had a chance to win, that’s the crazy part.”
*Running Backs – It was just a dreadful day for running backs Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as all three found themselves in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse. Mendehall fumbled on the second play of the game and it was a nightmare for the three after that. Three plays into the second quarter, Isaac Redman would fumble on a 3rd and 19 inside Pittsburgh’s 10 yard line, setting things up for Jonathan Dwyer to take a hold of the running back job for the day. However, Dwyer would fumble late in the second quarter for the Steelers third lost fumble of the half. Rashard Mendenhall who very well could be playing his way out of town, didn’t see the field again (after his 1st quarter fumble) until 5:19 of the third quarter, fumbles on the Steelers first play of the fourth quarter, it was recovered by Will Johnson. Mendenhall would not see the field again.
Chris Rainey who became the lead runner at times by default, scored a 1 yard touchdown to end the first half but later wanted to join the fumble party and had a crucial fumble with 2:30 left in the game, losing the ball on 1st and 10 at Pittsburgh’s 37 yard line that was recovered by Phil Taylor. GAME OVER
*LaMarr Woodley – In what has become the norm, LaMarr Woodley came up with a lower body injury, leaving the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Woodley who has been in the trainers room more than on the playing field since signing a massive $60+ million deal in August 2011, is becoming a player the Steelers have not been able to count on.
*Mike Wallace – Wallace had no Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him but he continues to come up small with top wide receiver Antonio Brown sidelined.
DON’T SLEEP ON STEELERS JUST YET?
The Steelers are not a Super Bowl contender by any means but “IF” they get healthy, they can easily still emerge as a team that could still cause some problems in the AFC, with how well the defense is playing. The Steelers loss on Sunday in stunning fashion (On How they Lost) was without their two top offensive players in franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and star wide receiver Antonio Brown, in addition to starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and Troy Polamalu. Steelers officials are confident in having Roethlisberger and Brown healthy enough to play in the final five games, while there is optimism that Troy Polamalu is on track to return in the next 1-3 weeks. Whether this team can peak late in the season though remains to be seen
POSITIVES MOVING FORWARD OUT OF CLEVELAND GAME
(1) Lawrence Timmons – Timmons as a I wrote following the Chiefs game has been the Steelers defensive MVP this season and he continues to be a force all over the field. Timmons day was highlighted by a 53 yard pick-6 for a touchdown just a 1:11 into the game for his second interception in three games and his team-leading third interception. Timmons had a team-high 10 tackles vs Cleveland. He has been excellent and after a subpar season in 2011, he is living up to his contract unlike Woodley
(2) James Harrison – For the second straight game, James Harrison continues to show some life and he had his best game of the year. That could be huge for the Steelers down the stretch. Harrison had 9 tackles, 1 sack and 4 tackles for loss.
(3) Jason Worilds – Replacing the injured LaMarr Woodley, Worilds had a breakout game with 4 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 QB hits. Worilds leads the team with 5 sacks.
(4) Brett Keisel – Keisel early in the season looked like a player on the downside of his career but in the past four to five games he has been excellent. Keisel tipped a Brandon Weeden pass leading to Lawrence Timmons pick-6 and then on James Harrison’s sack, Keisel got outside pressure collapsing the pocket as Harrison came from the inside. Keisel added a sack of his own and overall had 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss vs Browns. Keisel in his last three games, has 17 tackles and 3 sacks.
(5) Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders has really stepped up his game of late, emerging as a dependable No. 2 receiver for Mike Wallace’s expected departure next season. Sanders was one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of the ball, hauling in 5 receptions for 75 yards. Sanders has 157 receiving yards in his last two games.
(6) Plaxico Burress – I’ll say this about Plaxico. We are not going to know if he can make a real impact until Ben Roethlisberger is under center but I saw some positives from Burress on Sunday. He created a pass interference call on a deep ball in the end zone, setting up Chris Rainey’s 1 yard TD run but what stood out with Burress is that he was getting open.