The Steelers losing streak extended to four games Sunday afternoon as the Steelers suffered yet another stunning loss, this time to the Oakland Raiders and a journeyman quarterback who didn’t have a job at the start of the regular season.
Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw 3 fourth quarter touchdowns including a 11 yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with nine seconds remaining as the Raiders stunned Pittsburgh 27-24.
The Steelers went ahead 24-20 on Ben Roethlisberger’s 11 yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:56 remaining, only to have Gradkowski and the Raiders go 10 plays and 88 yards for the game winning score.
The loss puts the Steelers (6-6) in serious danger of missing playoffs, after winning the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons.
The offense stumbled for the most part in the first three quarters but delivered in the fourth quarter when it counted and again it was the Steelers once vaunted defense that failed to make a key stop in the fourth quarter.
Just a week after head coach Mike Tomlin promised to “unleash hell in December,” the message didn‘t make it to his players.
A fourth straight loss has shown the reality of the situation has not set in for a number of players. The Steelers have lost their edge since a 6-2 start and after suffering another shocking loss, it is doubtful that the Steelers will be able to right the ship.
Despite some major flaws in their secondary and other areas, the Steelers clearly have the talent to win out and earn a playoff berth, barring some help.
Mentally though, it appears the Steelers don’t have it in them. There is just something wrong in that locker room and there has been a lack of accountability.
Post-Game Thoughts
The Steelers offense has been more explosive than last year but they still lack that killer instinct. They continue to let teams hang around, which is what has happened in nearly every loss.
It’s a more talented group, with a much better running game and offensive line but there’s still something missing.
The offense though, has shown the ability to come up with a big score or two late in ball games like they did last year. On Sunday the offense delivered in the fourth quarter and put the Steelers in position to win the game.
The difference compared to last year is that the Steelers no longer have a dominant defense that can close out games.
Polamalu injury a blessing in disguise for 2010?
*The loss of Troy Polamalu has derailed the Steelers season through 12 games but in moving forward towards 2010, maybe it has been a blessing to management to show that this is an aging defense that has a below average secondary.
Secondary lacks playmakers
I wrote after the Cincinnati game that one of the major issues with the Steelers defense is that they lack any kind of playmakers in their secondary when Troy Polamalu is out of the lineup.
Their four game losing streak has proved that point.  The Steelers had a number of situations to close out Sunday’s game by just making a play on the ball.
The Steelers cornerbacks have zero interceptions on the season but that’s not even the main issue. Their two starters Ike Taylor and William Gay don’t have a knack to the ball. Quarterbacks can be aggressive against both of them because the chances of either player creating a turnover is slim.
*A play that stood out to me on the Raiders game winning scoring drive was a Louis Murphy 23 yard reception on the sideline at Pittsburgh’s 17 yard line.
Gradkowski threw the ball into traffic and Ike Taylor had a perfect opportunity to pick it off or break up the ball but Taylor had bad timing and jumped too early as Murphy came down with the reception to set up a first and 10.
*William Gay struggled again and he’s just clearly not a starter in this league. The Steelers absolutely showed too much faith in Gay during the off-season as we have noted of late but the issue in the organization is that Dick Lebeau doesn’t see Gay as being a problem.
At least not until today, when LeBeau started to use Gay mainly on blitzes in the second half.
The struggles of the Steelers secondary has been evident even when they were winning. Would it have really hurt to bring in lets say veteran Mike McKenzie for a workout last month?
Also, the play of the Steelers safeties hasn’t been anything to write home about either.
The best decision the Steelers made this off-season was not signing Ryan Clark to an extension. He’s been exploited without Polamalu in the lineup.
Farrior playing too much
Linebacker James Farrior is playing too much. At his age, he wears down late in games because he’s on the field for the entire game.
The Steelers have to look into the process of getting Keyaron Fox on the field to spell Farrior. Farrior is going to wear down even more as the season goes on.
Mendenhall sits in second quarter
Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 103 yards and 1 touchdown but did not carry the ball in the second quarter, despite the Steelers having three offensive series.
Mendenhall rushed for 67 yards in the first quarter, including a 60 yard run.
Holmes a bright spot in loss
Santonio Holmes hauled in eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders.
Holmes has racked up 34 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns since the Steelers bye week in Week 8.
Injury Report
Cornerback William Gay suffered a concussion in the 4th quarter. His status for Thursday’s game is unknown. Mike Tomlin claimed after the game that changes could be made on both sides of the ball.