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Steelers 27, Bengals 3: Steelers defense keeps getting better

The Steelers won a game for the first time this season Monday night, beating the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field.

In doing so, the Steelers allowed three points or less for the first time since Week 16 of the 2011 season, when they blanked the St. Louis — yes, the St. Louis — Rams 27-0 in Pittsburgh.

In other words, since Before Tebow.

No, this doesn’t mean that the Steelers defense is once again the championship unit that it was for about a decade before noodle-armed Tim Tebow signaled the end of that era in the 2011 AFC wild-card game.

It does mean that despite not having a win to show for it until Monday, this young and growing defense has shown progress for four straight weeks.

In Week 1, the Steelers defense was inept against Tom Brady.

In Week 2, the Steelers had four sacks and allowed just seven points in the first half before Russell Wilson did Russell Wilson things in the second half.

In Week 3, the Steelers defense played well enough to beat the 49ers. T.J. Watt recovered a fumble with less than seven minutes left and the Steelers leading. But the defense was asked to make one extra stop because of a James Conner fumble, and Jimmy Garoppolo threw his first touchdown pass of the game to give the 49ers the 24-20 win.

The Steelers defense still can be solved by the likes of Brady, Wilson and Garoppolo.

But not Andy Dalton.

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Steelers’ future depends on Mason Rudolph

Daniel Jones and Kyle Allen have been the talk of the town this week in the NFL.

Mason Rudolph?

Not so much.

Jones, chosen with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, led the Giants from an 18-point halftime deficit Sunday to a 32-31 win in Tampa Bay, completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards with two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns.

Allen, who went undrafted in 2018, completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start Sunday as the visiting Panthers defeated the Cardinals 38-20.

Rudolph, like Allen a second-year player, went 14-for-27 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Steelers’ 24-20 loss at San Francisco.

Why can’t Rudolph be more like Jones and Allen, Steelers fans might ask?

Well, how do we know he’s not? He’s played just a game and a half while Jones has played in one game and mopped up in another and Allen has played in three games.

The Steelers, who drafted Rudolph in the third round last year with the 76th pick, certainly believe in him. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have traded next year’s first-round pick, which has the potential to be very high, to the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

By making that trade after Ben Roethlisberger went down for the season, the Steelers (0-3) took themselves out of the market for an elite quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or Jake Fromm in next year’s draft.

This means that the organization is in trouble if Rudolph flops as the starter this season. He doesn’t have to create a quarterback controversy. He just has to show enough for the Steelers to feel confident that he can succeed Roethlisberger in three or so years.

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Seahawks 28, Steelers 26: Ben Roethlisberger out for the season. Now what?

How’s this for a punch to the gut?

The Steelers fell to 0-2 with Sunday’s 28-26 loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field, but the news on Monday was a lot harder to swallow.

Ben Roethlisberger will have surgery on his right elbow and is out for the season.

It’s not like the Steelers haven’t started 0-2 before. Heck, they started 0-4 in 2013 and damn near made the playoffs.

But Roethlisberger missing pretty much the entire season? That’s something this organization hasn’t dealt with since it drafted the quarterback in 2004.

Roethlisberger had never missed more than four games in a season despite taking quite a licking in his career. He’s been the Stretch Armstrong of quarterbacks. In Week 3 of the 2015 season at St. Louis he rode off on a cart, a scene that usually signals the end of someone’s season.

He missed only four games.

Every once in a while throughout Roethlisberger’s career Steelers fans have had to hold their breath when he’s been shaken up, but he’s almost always stayed in the game.

Roethlisberger clutched his elbow after throwing a pass during the first half of Sunday’s game, but he’s done things like that before and it almost never turns out to be anything serious. For all his durability, he has been a little overly demonstrative when it comes to certain bumps and bruises.

However, this might not be something that happened during the game. According to Dianna Russini of ESPN, teammates said that Roethlisberger had felt discomfort in his elbow all week.

This could be a wear-and-tear kind of thing. Nothing that’s happened on the field has directly knocked Roethlisberger out for a season, but then again Father Time doesn’t wear shoulder pads. And it could be that this all-powerful dad that has dictated the length of so many football careers is starting to clear his throat to tell the 37-year-old Roethlisberger that it’s time to get ready for bed.

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Patriots 33, Steelers 3: Futility against Brady isn’t the Steelers’ only problem

Remember when the Steelers used to at least try to beat Tom Brady-led Patriots teams at Gillette Stadium?

The Steelers are now 0-6 against Brady in Foxborough, and Sunday night’s 33-3 flogging to open the 2019 season might be the worst of those six losses.

Oh, it might not be as infamous as the Anthony Smith Guarantee Game against the unbeaten Patriots in 2007, or the Speed Limit 55, Steelers 31 Game in 2013, or the loss in the 2016 AFC championship game.

At one point or another, however, the Steelers made some kind of effort in each of those games. On Sunday night, they started the season as if they were 53 kids who didn’t feel like getting out of bed on the first day of school.

As we sift through the wreckage and look back on the good ol’ days when the Steelers actually made the Patriots secrete at least a few beads of sweat, we find that the Steelers have other problems they need to wrestle with if they want to have any chance of getting another shot at Brady this season.

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Predicting each game of the Steelers’ 2019 season

It’s too bad the Steelers don’t own the Raiders on the field the way they own them during the offseason.

Last year, the Steelers traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round draft pick that eventually turned into Mason Rudolph. The latter might only be a backup quarterback, but unlike Bryant he’s on an NFL roster.

Then this year the Steelers shipped Antonio Brown to Oakland for a third- and a fifth-round draft pick. Considering Brown’s antics, that deal is looking better for the Steelers every day.

For about five years the Steelers thought they could get back to the Super Bowl with fireworks on offense.

It didn’t quite work out.

Now Brown and Le’Veon Bell are gone, and even while they were here the Steelers were trying to build up their defense. Devin Bush is their seventh straight defensive player drafted in the first round. The Steelers had never even drafted a defensive player in the first round for three straight years before 2013, and according to Pro Football Reference only one other team has done it seven years in a row. Which team is that? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

Of those seven first-rounders, only T.J. Watt has had a significant impact. Terrell Edmunds, drafted in 2017, could make a second-year leap. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the safety played more defensive snaps than all but three NFL rookies. So he’s had plenty of on-the-job training.

The Steelers traded up 10 spots to draft Bush at No. 10 in April. Since Kevin Colbert took over as Steelers general manager in 2000, the team has traded up in the first round only three times. The first time was 2003, when they took Troy Polamalu. The second was in 2006, when they took Santonio Holmes. That’s a Hall of Fame candidate and a Super Bowl MVP. If the Bush trade turns out to be as savvy as the other two, if Edmunds does break out and if Watt keeps making plays, the Steelers might at least be able to protect some fourth-quarter leads.

But will it be good enough to get them back to the playoffs and ultimately clear the bar that this franchise has set for itself, which is a seventh Lombardi Trophy?

This blog hasn’t been too far off with game-by-game predictions.

In 2016 we predicted an 11-5 record and a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Steelers went 11-5 and lost in the AFC championship.

In 2017 we predicted 12-4 and a four-point loss in the divisional round. They went 13-3 and lost by three in the divisional round.

Last year, we predicted 10-6. They went 9-6-1. We also, um, predicted a Super Bowl loss. They didn’t quite get that far.

How far will they go this year? Let’s find out.

Week 1

at New England

The last time the Patriots failed to reach the AFC championship game was 2010, Rob Gronkowski’s rookie year. In 2009, they lost in the wild-card round. In 2008, the year Tom Brady was hurt, they missed the playoffs. So Gronkowski sort of boosted the Patriots out of a lull in their dynasty. The good news is that Gronkowski is retired. The bad news is that the Steelers’ inability to beat Brady at Gillette Stadium began when Gronkowski was entering junior high school.

Patriots, 30-21 (0-1)

Week 2


The Steelers better win this game, because in Week 3 they go to the West Coast, where they are 2-9 since 2003. Don’t sleep on the Seahawks in the NFC West, but the Steelers will gut this one out.

Steelers, 24-16 (1-1)

Week 3

at San Francisco

The Steelers don’t have to worry about the Gronkowski monster in their closet, unless he comes back later in the season. But they do have to worry about George Kittle, who could emerge as the NFL’s top tight end this season. Make that 2-10 since 2003.

49ers, 21-17 (1-2)

Week 4


Marvin Lewis is no longer around to keep the Bengals mediocre, but even if Zac Taylor does turn out to be the next Sean McVay the Steelers pull this one out and avoid a 1-3 start.

Steelers, 31-10 (2-2)

Week 5


The Ravens enter 2019 with some questions. Can Earl Thomas be the heart and soul of the defense with Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley gone? Can rookie receivers Marquise Brown and/or Miles Boykin make an immediate impact, because the Ravens don’t have much else in that department. Can Lamar Jackson be a real NFL quarterback? Despite all that uncertainty, the Steelers will have to go to the wall to beat this team as always.

Steelers, 15-13 (3-2)

Week 6

at Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers have lost their shine as a Super Bowl contender with the Melvin Gordon mess and the injury to safety Derwin James, an All-Pro last year as a rookie. This will be the Steelers’ first trip to Los Angeles in 25 years. It would be nice if the Chargers still were in San Diego, because that’s the only West Coast city where the Steelers have won in the last 20 years. It’s the only place where Ben Roethlisberger has won in the Pacific time zone, and that was back in 2005. The last Steelers quarterback to win on the West Coast? Michael Vick. And it will stay that way. Make that 2-11 since 2003.

Chargers, 28-23 (3-3)

Week 8


The Steelers will come off a bye for a home game against what could be the NFL’s worst team. The sad thing is, even if the Steelers lost this game it might not top their 2014 home loss to the Buccaneers as the worst upset they’ve suffered at Heinz Field. We know all too well the Steelers’ penchant for losing to bad teams. But don’t worry. It won’t happen here.

Steelers, 37-6 (4-3)

Week 9


Hopefully everyone enjoyed the Steelers’ 51-34 shootout victory over the Colts at Heinz Field in 2014, because as it turns out it will be the only face-to-face matchup between Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. The last three times the Steelers have faced the Colts, they’ve encountered Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett. They nearly lost to Brissett at Indianapolis in 2017. They’ll beat him a little more comfortably at home.

Steelers, 33-18 (5-3)

Week 10

Los Angeles Rams

Last year we predicted that the Rams and Jaguars will both take a step back after huge leaps forward in 2017. Well, I we were right about one of them. Maybe we were just a year early on the Rams. This will be a shootout between Roethlisberger and Jared Goff.

Steelers, 42-39 (6-3)

Week 11

at Cleveland

The Steelers enter Cleveland on a three-game winning streak, but just as everyone starts to anoint them as Super Bowl contenders, they lose just like they did the last time they went to Cleveland on a Thursday night 10 years ago. They lost that game to a 1-11 Browns team. The Browns will have more than one win at this point, so the loss won’t be as embarrassing.

Browns, 27-20 (6-4)

Week 12

at Cincinnati

The Steelers were down by a point when Brown’s touchdown with 10 seconds left rescued them in their 28-21 win at Cincinnati last year. Let’s not forget how lame the Steelers’ offense looked in Week 17 last year when Brown was wearing a fur coat. There will be times this year when the Steelers miss Brown. This will be one of those times. The Bengals, meanwhile, probably will have A.J. Green back by this time.

Bengals, 23-10 (6-5)

Week 13


Yes, the Browns will be better this year, but the hype train needs to slow down a little bit. They haven’t won at Pittsburgh since 2003. Never losing at home to the Browns during Roethlisberger’s career isn’t too much to ask of the Steelers.

Steelers, 25-9 (7-5)

Week 14

at Arizona

This isn’t quite the West Coast, but the Cardinals will be so putrid that this could turn out to be the Steelers’ obligatory pratfall for the season. Yup, TV screens all over Western Pennsylvania will be kicked and thrown … and those who do smash their flatscreens will miss an epic comeback.

Steelers, 30-27, OT (8-5)

Week 15


At 8-5 the Steelers probably can control their own destiny, but these last three games won’t be easy. Josh Allen could emerge as an upper-tier quarterback this season, but the last Bills quarterback to win at Pittsburgh will have coached the Colts there in Week 9. And after Week 15 Frank Reich still will be the last Bills quarterback to win in Pittsburgh as the Steelers’ defense starts to come of age.

Steelers, 20-0 (9-5)

Week 16

at New York Jets

Here’s the answer to our trivia question. The Jets are the only other team to draft a defensive player in the first round seven years in a row. They did it eight years in a row from 2010 to 2017. They had been pretty solid on that side of the ball before slumping to 25th in yards allowed each of the last two years. Is there any other story line regarding the Jets? Oh, that’s right. The Le’Veon Bell Revenge Game. Unfortunately for Bell, he’ll be running into the Steelers’ defense at a bad time.

Steelers, 21-7 (10-5)

Week 17

at Baltimore

And so with a win at Baltimore, the Steelers could take the AFC North here. If they lose, they’ll have to root for the Bengals to beat the Browns at home. The Ravens, meanwhile, will have nothing to play for at this point except spoiler. The Steelers close out the regular season with five straight wins and edge out the Browns to take the division.

Steelers, 17-3 (11-5)

AFC divisional round

Kansas City

The Patriots (who else?) will be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and the Steelers will get the other bye. The Chiefs will be the No. 3 seed and the Texans the No. 4 seed. The wild-card teams will be the Jaguars (No. 5) and Browns (No. 6). The Chiefs will take care of the Browns in the wild-card round to earn a trip to Pittsburgh.

In this predicted scenario, the Steelers allowed just 10 points in the last three regular-season games, and let’s throw in a scoreless second half in Arizona in Week 14 with the Steelers coming back from a 27-7 deficit.

The problem is that Patrick Mahomes will be coming to Pittsburgh. He won’t slice and dice the Steelers defense the way he did in Week 2 last season, but the Steelers still won’t be able to come up with enough stops to survive this one.

Brown might be unemployed by January and throwing furniture off the top of buildings while wearing a fur coat, but the Curse of Facebook Live will linger. The Steelers will fall to 0-3 in playoff games since Brown’s infamous stunt after the 2016 playoff win in Kansas City.

If the defense picks up where it leaves off at the end of 2019, it’ll give the Steelers a real chance to win one more title before Roethlisberger retires.

Chiefs, 24-21

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Steelers should fire Keith Butler, not Mike Tomlin, after missing playoffs

The Steelers signed kicker Matt McCrane off the street.

He makes all three of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 35-yarder with 1:56 left, and the Steelers beat the Bengals 16-13 Sunday at Heinz Field.

It’s quite a story, but there was no time to revel in this victory. As soon as the clock struck zero in Pittsburgh, the question was What’s Going on in Baltimore.

What went on in Baltimore would probably rank No. 2 on the list of the most painful scoreboard-watching moments in Steelers history. The only one worse was Ryan Succop‘s infamous missed field goal that would have given the Chiefs’ backups a win over the Chargers and the Steelers a playoff berth in 2013.

The Browns didn’t come that close to beating the Ravens Sunday. Down two points with about a minute left, they were within 10 yards of field goal range when C.J. Mosley intercepted Baker Mayfield on fourth down.

The Steelers still could have sneaked under the velvet ropes of the playoffs if the Colts and Titans had played to a tie Sunday night, but since this is American football and not the sport that’s called football everywhere else in the world, we knew there was no way Sunday night’s game wouldn’t have a winner.

So the Steelers (9-6-1) have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They’ll have gone 11 years since their last championship and nine years since their last Super Bowl appearance. They were 7-2-1 on Thanksgiving and cleaning out their lockers on New Year’s Eve (or maybe New Year’s Day).

This organization faces a lot of questions. There will be time this offseason to examine all of them. For now, let’s start with the easiest one:

Should Mike Tomlin be fired?

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Saints 31, Steelers 28: Steelers aren’t ‘nice’ enough to make the playoffs

The Steelers aren’t likely to find a playoff berth under their tree this Christmas season.

They lost 31-28 to the Saints Sunday at New Orleans. The Saints (13-2) clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with the win. There’s nothing naughty about losing to an elite team like this.

But Santa knows when the Steelers are sleeping. He knows when they’re awake.

He knows when they lose to the Raiders, for goodness sake.

The Steelers (8-6-1) would have been on Santa’s “nice” list if they had overcome Tom Brady and Drew Brees in consecutive weeks. But to absorb losses to quality opponents, you need to beat teams like the Raiders and the Hue Jackson-coached Browns.

If the Steelers had beaten the Raiders (3-11) two weeks ago or even held their 21-7 fourth-quarter lead at Cleveland in Week 1, they’d be in the playoffs with a Week 17 win Sunday at home against the Bengals (6-9).

Instead, the Steelers will be scoreboard watching for the first time since 2015, like children peeking out their window hoping to see Santa and his reindeer flying across the sky.

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Steelers 17, Patriots 10: Recent Steelers draft picks rise to occasion

The Steelers finally have figured out the key to beating Tom Brady.

Wait seven years.

Sunday’s 17-10 win at Heinz Field was the Steelers’ first over a Brady-led Patriots team since they won 25-17 at Pittsburgh in 2011. The only other time the Steelers have beaten Brady was 2004, a 34-13 home win.

The Steelers won 33-10 at New England in 2008, but that came against Matt Cassel because Brady missed most of that year with a knee injury.

Spaced seven years apart, these Steelers’ wins over Brady are like some kind of celestial phenomenon. No, it’s not a 76-year wait like Halley’s Comet, although it’s seemed that way.

And speaking of Halley, or Haley, it’s not insignificant that entering Sunday’s game the last time the Steelers beat Brady was the year before Todd Haley was hired as offensive coordinator. Now, the Steelers have beaten Brady the year after firing Haley.

No, Haley wasn’t the reason the Steelers couldn’t stop Brady, but it could be he was part of a bigger problem that the Steelers finally might be solving. We’ll get back to that.

Catholic children born the first time the Steelers beat Brady in 2004 were likely having their First Communion right around the time the Steelers bested Brady in 2011 and are probably entering high school this year.

In much the same way, these victories seem to have come at significant turning points in Steelers history.

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Raiders 24, Steelers 21: Steelers’ playoff chances slipping away

The Steelers had it made on Sunday.

The Ravens lost, giving the Steelers an opportunity to increase their AFC North lead to a game and a half.

The Texans lost. The Patriots suffered a crushing loss to the Dolphins on a last-second lateral that turned into a game-winning touchdown. Those losses made the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye reachable for the Steelers once again.

The Steelers were golden. They bought Gillian Jacobs a few drinks at the bar and had her twirling her hair, touching their arm and laughing at all their jokes. All they had to do was say “Let’s get out of here,” and they’d be hooked up.

Instead, they picked their nose.

All the Steelers had to do Sunday to take advantage of their good fortune was beat a 2-10 Raiders team in Oakland.

Instead, they lost 24-21.

They blew it.

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Chargers 33, Steelers 30: Steelers struggling while other AFC teams are on the rise

Another week, another team that looks like it has a better chance than the Steelers to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Remember a month or so ago when the Patriots and Chiefs seemed to be the main hurdles between the Steelers and Super Bowl LIII?

Those were simpler times.

Now the Chargers have stamped themselves as legitimate contenders after beating the Steelers 33-30 Sunday night at Heinz Field.

This comes a week after the Steelers (7-4-1) lost to the Broncos, another rising power in the conference.

And let’s not forget about the Texans (9-3), who have won nine straight.

The pack has caught up with the Steelers, who are only a half game ahead of the rejuvenated Ravens (7-5) in the AFC North. The Steelers have lost two in a row, their first losing streak since the four-game skid that nearly sank their season in 2016.

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