The standings say the Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-6, but let’s do some football sabermetrics and create a new stat.
In addition to the “W” column and the “L” column, there should be a “WTFL” column in the standings. The Steelers would have a “4” in that column, because in today’s texting vernacular, Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was their fourth “wtf” loss of the season.
This was the Steelers’ fourth loss to a team that won’t have a winning record in 2012. The first three came on the road by six points or less. Three “wtf” losses is too many for a franchise that measures its success in Lombardi Trophies, nonetheless those losses could be attributed to the “Any Given Sunday” nature of the NFL and the razor-thin divide between the league’s haves and have-nots.
Last week’s victory in Baltimore appeared to absolve the Steelers of their defeats in Oakland, Tennessee and Cleveland.
The Steelers once again have some explaining to do.
The last time the Steelers lost at home by a double-digit margin to a team with a losing record was 2003, when they finished 6-10.
Sunday officially became embarrassing for the Steelers when they allowed the Chargers to convert a third-and-13 by running the ball midway through the third quarter. Instead of settling for a field goal, the Chargers (5-8) went on to score a touchdown on that 17-play drive and take a 20-3 lead.
The situation went from embarrassing to ridiculous on the first play of the Steelers’ next possession, when they joined the Jets in the Butt-Fumble Club.
Ben Roethlisberger attempted what looked like a screen pass to Antonio Brown, but David Paulson’s backside got in the way. The ball bounced into the end zone and Quentin Jammer picked up what was ruled a fumble for a 27-3 Chargers lead.
The Steelers showed some signs of life when Mike Wallace caught a 40-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-10 and the defense forced a three-and-out.
But the Chargers faked the punt and kept the ball to close out the third quarter, which essentially means that Norv Turner, who according to Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego via NFL.com has a pink slip waiting for him at the end of the season, out-witted Mike Tomlin.
How’s that for adding insult to injury?
The Chargers eventually had to punt for real on the drive, but they got the ball right back when Bront Bird intercepted Roethlisberger. Philip Rivers converted that into points right away with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander, which made the score 34-10 before the Steelers put lipstick on their pig of a performance and scored a couple of touchdowns to make the final margin deceptively close.
Sunday’s loss is so shameful that it demands an answer to the rhetorical question that has been streamlined into the “wtf” acronym.
In other words, what’s wrong with the Steelers?
Let’s start with the running backs.
Jonathan Dwyer ran for just 32 yards on eight carries, including 12 yards on his six first-half carries, which is a big reason the Steelers had only two first downs in the first 29 minutes. The Chargers could have taken control of this game sooner if Rivers was more accurate with his passes in the first half.
The only reason Dwyer reached four yards per carry is because of a couple of longer runs in the second half when the Chargers were up big and worried mostly about defending the pass.
Isaac Redman was even less effective than Dwyer, gaining zero yards on two carries. One of those no-gains came on a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 47 with two minutes left in the first half. The Steelers were down 10-0 and tried to steal the momentum with that gamble. Instead, the Chargers got the ball back in Steelers territory and increased their lead to 13-0.
It might be time to bring back Rashard Mendenhall.
Yeah. I said it.
Dwyer and Redman have combined for 3.5 yards per carry over the past two weeks. They’re the type of big, bruising running backs who need to wear down the defense over the course of a game. To do that, they need their team to win the time-of-possession battle.
That wasn’t happening Sunday. The Steelers’ defense had a hard time getting off the field. So far, it looks like the Steelers are missing Ike Taylor more than they missed Troy Polamalu.
Cortez Allen started in place of Taylor, which moved up Curtis Brown in the cornerback rotation. Brown was burned on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Alexander that increased the Chargers’ lead to 10-0 in the second quarter.
Brown was picked on so much that Josh Victorian, signed last week from the practice squad, replaced him and was beaten in the fourth quarter on Alexander’s second touchdown.
The Steelers’ defense failed to create a turnover Sunday, but that can’t be blamed on Taylor’s injury. That’s been a problem for almost two years. The Steelers went 12-4 last season despite forcing a league-low 15 turnovers. They have a winning record this season despite just 12 takeaways.
However, when you’re down 24 points, forcing turnovers is an essential element of a comeback. If you can’t score and get the ball right back, trying to come from behind is like trying to brew beer without yeast.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they’re still not facing any deficit in the race for a playoff berth. They caught a break from next week’s opponent when the Cowboys defeated the Bengals 20-19, dropping Cincinnati to 7-6.
The Bengals aren’t the only team the Steelers have to worry about now. Their butt-fumble buddies are just a game behind them at 6-7, and the Jets don’t face any team with a winning record the rest of the way.
The Steelers will be the No. 6 seed in the playoffs if they win their remaining three games. They could even afford another loss as long as they beat the Bengals at Pittsburgh in Week 16.
For that to happen, Taylor might need to get healthy and Mendenhall might have to prove worthy of wearing a uniform again.