Just like Terry Bradshaw did 40 years ago Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass that will be remembered for a while in Pittsburgh.
This one didn’t turn out quite as well for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose playoff hopes ended Sunday in a 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The only thing immaculate about Roethlisberger’s pass to Mike Wallace was its proximity to the heavens when it should have been heading toward Wallace’s hands. Reggie Nelson intercepted the overthrown ball and returned it to the Steelers’ 46-yard line with 14 seconds to go.
Andy Dalton threw a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green, and Josh Brown kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 13-10 lead with four seconds left.
Not nearly enough time for an Immaculate Reception redux.
Sunday’s game was played on the 40th anniversary of a day that exorcised 40 years of frustration for the Steelers and signaled the dawn of a successful 40-year chapter in franchise history.
Does this mean the next 40 years will be like the first 40, when the Steelers had just eight winning seasons and didn’t make the playoffs for 39 of those years?
If so, then I’ll be wearing my Terrible Towel as a diaper the next time I see a Steelers playoff game.
I was in actual diapers when the Immaculate Reception happened. I was too young to remember that game against the Oakland Raiders, but I remember all too well the Steelers’ most recent game against the Raiders.
That game, a 34-31 loss in Week 3 to a team that’s now 4-11, was the first red flag that something wasn’t right with the 2012 Steelers. The next warning came three weeks later, when the Steelers lost 26-23 at Tennessee to a team that is now 5-10 and lost 55-7 Sunday to the Green Bay Packers.
The Steelers’ Super Bowl teams of 2008 and 2010 didn’t lose games like that. Not even last season’s one-and-done playoff team lost games like that. Those early-season losses to the dregs of the NFL brought to mind 2009, the last year the Steelers missed the playoffs. The Steelers started 6-2 that year, lost five in a row then won three in a row to finish 9-7.
This season hasn’t been another 2009. Instead, it’s a contrarian 2009. Rather than ruining a good season with a losing streak then finishing strong, the Steelers interrupted a dismal season with a four-game winning streak and have since lost five of their last six.
The Steelers (7-8) will fall short of a winning record for the first time in six years. On Sunday, they dropped below .500 for the first time since they lost at Tennessee.
With the score tied in that game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin asked Shaun Suisham to kick a 54-yard field goal in the final minute, two yards beyond his career long. He missed, and the Titans were in prime field position for the winning field goal.
Tomlin didn’t learn from that mistake Sunday, deciding to try a 53-yarder with 1:51 left and the score tied 10-10. Suisham missed, giving the Bengals favorable field position they ultimately used to win the game.
Suisham has been the Steelers’ most reliable player this season on offense, defense or special teams. Entering Sunday’s game, the 54-yarder in Tennessee was the only field goal he missed.
But for the second time this season, asking Suisham to do too much cost the Steelers in a game they lost. Their actual football players weren’t good enough to win the game, so they expected a 6-foot, 200-pound kicker to do their dirty work.
The Steelers’ defense finally got its hands dirty Sunday in a performance the Steelers could have used a couple of times earlier in the season. The Steelers sacked Andy Dalton six times and forced three turnovers for the first time this year and the second time since the beginning of last season.
The defense allowed just six points. The Bengals’ other seven points came on Leon Hall’s 17-yard interception return in the first quarter.
The Steelers’ offense was the problem Sunday, not the defense.
Sure, Roethlisberger’s three interceptions in the last two games have essentially doomed the Steelers. But their offensive woes go much deeper than that and are becoming a tired old tune.
Roethlisberger is still getting tossed around like ragdoll behind the offensive line. One of the Bengals’ four sacks Sunday knocked the Steelers out of field-goal range.
There was no Immaculate Salvation for the Steelers’ ground game. Rashard Mendenhall returned from his suspension to lead the Steelers with 50 rushing yards on 11 carries, but Steelers ran for just 95 yards on 31 carries. They rank 26th in the NFL with 96.4 yards per game.
After ranking 21st in the league last season with 20.3 points per game, the Steelers are 22nd this season through 15 games with 20.8 points per game.
Bruce Arians could have done that.
Instead, Arians will be running the Indianapolis Colts offense in the playoffs.
Call it the Immaculate Vindication.