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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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Broncos 24, Steelers 17: Sloppy Steelers let win slip away

Who needs a first-round bye anyway? It didn’t exactly work out too well for the Steelers in the playoffs last season.

The Steelers blew a chance to pull to within a half game of the Chiefs and stay ahead of the Patriots in the jockeying for AFC playoff seeding after falling 24-17 to the Broncos Sunday.

This team won’t go very far in the playoffs, regardless of its seed, if it doesn’t clean up its sloppiness.

The Steelers (7-3-1) entered Sunday’s game with six straight wins, but they’ve essentially played one quarter of winning football in the last two games. They turned the ball over four times Sunday and didn’t force a turnover. They committed three turnovers and forced just one last week in Jacksonville and their turnover ratio this season is minus-3.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions Sunday, including one into the hands of 290-pound Shelby Harris in the end zone with a minute left that clinched the win for the Broncos (5-6).

Roethlisberger bobbled the snap and faked a handoff to James Conner, who almost tripped and ended up with his back to the goal line. Not the best way to sell a fake.

After that awkward exchange, Roethlisberger tried to force a throw to Antonio Brown when Harris stepped in. Once again a disheveled goal-line play cost the Steelers, like last season’s end-zone interception that dashed their hopes of defeating the Patriots.

The Steelers already had burned two timeouts in the second half Sunday before getting the ball with 4:26 left and a chance to tie. They just don’t seem organized in their two-minute offense, resembling a family of tourists in New York walking around haphazardly and having three different conversations as they try to figure out where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

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Steelers 20, Jaguars 16: Offense earns its ‘comeback’ badge

It’s one thing for the Steelers to shove a 50-Burger down the Panthers’ throats.

It’s one thing for Ben Roethlisberger to earn a perfect passer rating.

It’s one thing to score 177 points during a five-game stretch, a franchise record the Steelers had achieved heading into Sunday’s game in Jacksonville, according to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.

Those dizzying numbers are nice, but the Steelers’ offense added another feather to its already decorated cap in Sunday’s 20-16 win over the Jaguars.

After being shackled for almost three quarters by an elite defense, the Steelers somehow scored enough points to take down their 2017 tormentors.

The Jaguars defeated the Steelers 30-9 at Pittsburgh in Week 5 last season and then stunned them 45-42 in the divisional playoffs at Pittsburgh.

They’ve fallen on hard times this season, dropping to 3-7 with Sunday’s defeat. But with their third-ranked defense, they haunted the Steelers Sunday. They intercepted Roethlisberger three times, limiting him to 10 completions in 23 attempts for 60 yards in the first 43 minutes of the game. They held the Steelers to 2.4 rushing yards per attempt in the game.

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Steelers 52, Panthers 21: Six takeaways from Steelers win

It seemed awfully cold for August Thursday night at Heinz Field.

The Steelers were playing the Panthers and Joshua Dobbs was at quarterback.

Must have been Week 4 of the preseason, right?

Nope. This game counted.

The Steelers steamrolled the Panthers 52-21, putting up some scoreboard-tilting numbers that provide a perfect opportunity for some takeaways, number-crunching and did-you-knows.

Ben Roethlisberger‘s perfect night

Ben Roethlisberger did play Thursday night, but he was only needed for about three quarters. He completed 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns, giving him a perfect passer rating (158.3) for the fourth time in his career but the first time since 2007.

That’s right. Roethlisberger never had a perfect passer rating while Todd Haley was his offensive coordinator. The Steelers have scored 279 points this season, an average of 31 points per game. They’re on pace to score 496. The franchise record is 436 in 2014, according to Pro Football Reference.

Heading into this season, Haley was the offensive coordinator for four of the six highest-scoring seasons in Steelers’ history. But for all the talk about the Steelers’ prolific offense over the past few seasons, those 436 points in 2014 rank only 71st in NFL history, according to Sporting Charts.

With an offensive coordinator in Randy Fichtner who just lets Roethlisberger do his thing, the Steelers might finally have an offense that’s considered among the best of all-time.

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Steelers 23, Ravens 16: Ben Roethlisberger hangs tough, Steelers hang on

At 36 years old, Ben Roethlisberger‘s still got it.

He can take the same kind of beatings he took when he was in his early 30’s.

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 47 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Steelers’ 23-16 win over the Ravens Sunday at Baltimore. He also ran for a touchdown, but for a couple of minutes early in the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like Roethlisberger would finish the game.

The Steelers quarterback scrambled for 12 yards and was taken down by Ravens defender Za’Darius Smith. Roethlisberger seemed to land on his right shoulder and stayed on the turf with the Steelers’ medical staff attending to him.

This wasn’t the first time in Roethlisberger’s career that Steelers fans have had to hold their breath and hope that he wasn’t hurt too badly after taking a hit. While some of his injuries have forced him to miss games, the Steelers always have avoided the worst-case scenario.

Was their luck about to run out?

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Steelers 33, Browns 18: James Conner putting up historic numbers

After every Steelers game this season, the name of a certain Steelers running back has been mentioned in this space in the context of how the Steelers are getting along without him.

The name of this jet-skiing rapper usually comes as an aside late in the column.

That ends this week, because this guy has become an afterthought and his name doesn’t even deserve any search engine optimization.

James Conner, meanwhile, has earned prominent mention after running for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns and also catching five passes for 66 yards in the Steelers’ 33-18 win over the Browns Sunday at Heinz Field.

Conner shouldn’t have to be talked about in the same breath as the guy who he used to back up. He does, however, merit a place in the same sentence as some of the greatest running backs in franchise history.

No, Conner hasn’t done nearly enough to be directly compared to Franco Harris or Willie Parker. But he has matched at least one of their accomplishments.

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Steelers 28, Bengals 21: Antonio Brown provides finishing touch

It was getting to be time to ban all WiFi references involving Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. That whole theme had kind of been beaten to the ground. CBS even did a graphic on it, for crying out loud.

But then with 10 seconds left in the Steelers’ game at Cincinnati on Sunday, Roethlisberger’s game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to Brown happened.

That, well, that connection and Roethlisberger’s 2-point conversion pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster gave the Steelers a 28-21 win over the Bengals.

All right, so let’s play along.

How’s this:

Never mind WiFi, Roethlisberger and Brown had a WiMAX connection on that play.

WiMAX is basically WiFi with citywide connectivity.

Or something.

Anyway, if we butchered that definition, then we weren’t doing any worse than the Steelers before Brown capped that drive.

The Bengals had taken a 21-20 lead with 1:18 left. Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard pass to Smith-Schuster to begin the ensuing possession, but the Steelers took 25 seconds to run their next play. They faced third-and-10 at their own 41 with 29 seconds left, and it would have been fourth down if the Bengals hadn’t shown once again that no matter how inept the Steelers may be at the time, they can do worse.

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Steelers 41, Falcons 17: T.J. Watt must keep leading defense

The Steelers have taken a defensive player in the first round of the draft six years in a row and counting. Before 2013, their longest string of first-round defensive draft picks had been two years.

That draft strategy hadn’t exactly paid off through the first four weeks of the 2018 season. Part of the problem is that only two of those six selections have made a significant impact.

One of them is Ryan Shazier, and we all know that losing him has been a big blow. The Steelers need someone else to become the heart of the defense.

There’s no open audition to fill that need. There’s one guy who has shown he can do it. He’s the only other one of those six first-rounders (Terrell Edmunds gets a pass, too early to judge him) who isn’t a bust candidate, even if he had been barely visible over the last three weeks.

T.J. Watt had three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hits in Sunday’s 41-17 win over the Falcons at Heinz Field. He also led the team with eight tackles, including six solo tackles, according to ESPN.com.

Watt put up similar game-wrecking numbers the only other time this season that the Steelers defense has looked respectable. He had three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and 10 tackles (not to mention the tie-salvaging blocked field goal) in the 21-21 Week 1 stalemate at Cleveland.

In the three games in between, Watt totaled three quarterback hits, 10 tackles and no sacks.

The Steelers took Watt in the first round of the 2017 draft, and he seemed destined for stardom after a two-sack game with an interception in a Week 1 win at Cleveland. He plateaued as the season went on even if it was still a thumbs-up rookie campaign with seven sacks.

Take away Week 1 games in Cleveland, however, and Watt entered Sunday with five sacks in his first 19 career games.

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Ravens 26, Steelers 14: Defense fails early, Roethlisberger falters late

How bad is the Steelers’ defense?

It’s reached the point where all it takes to beat the Steelers is an adequate starting quarterback.

The Steelers fell to Joe Flacco and the Ravens 26-14 Sunday night at Heinz Field, falling to 1-2-1.

Flacco is the last career starter that the Steelers defeated, and even then they gave up 38 points in a 39-38 Week 14 win last season.

Since then the only quarterbacks the Steelers have beaten are T.J. Yates, DeShone Kizer and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick likely lost his starting job Sunday during the Buccaneers’ 48-10 loss to the Bears. Remember when the Steelers and Browns played to a tie while Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers were upsetting the Saints in Week 1? All of a sudden the Steelers’ Week 3 game at Tampa Bay looked a lot tougher.

Well, the Steelers won that game, but it remains their only win and it proves very little considering what transpired in Chicago on Sunday.

Since Week 15 last season, the Steelers have failed to beat Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, Patrick Mahomes and Flacco. The talent level among that group varies widely, but what ties them together is that they all have held down starting positions in the NFL at one time or another.

It doesn’t take an elite quarterback to solve the Steelers’ defense these days. All it takes is a competent one.

And the only reason the Steelers managed to beat Flacco in Week 14 last year is that Ben Roethlisberger was better.

He wasn’t better than Flacco on Sunday.

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