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Bleeding Black and Gold: LIGHTNING STRIKES

December 9, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: San Diego 34, Pittsburgh 24

The headline: WEEK TO WEAK: Jekyll/Hyde Steelers follow up big win with unfathomable flop

The bottom line: When the Steelers have been good, they’ve been very good, but when they’ve been bad, they’ve been historically bad. No matter what the playoff probabilities say (and they say if Pittsburgh wins two of three, it’s almost certainly in), the reality on the field is that this is not a team that can put together the kind of consistency needed to make any kind of postseason run.

It was over when: Facing 1,000,000-to-1 playoff odds and firing (for real, this time) at the end of this season, Norv Turner called a fake punt deep in his own territory near the end of the third quarter that successfully snatched the momentum back from Pittsburgh and put this one away.

Play of the day: The Steelers were still in the game when Ben Roethlisberger’s attempted wide receiver screen to Antonio Brown went off the back of tight end David Paulson (who was being blown up on the play by a Chargers lineman). It appeared to be a forward pass (by about 18 inches) but no official blew a whistle as the ball careened into the end zone where Brown nonchalantly allowed a defender to pick it up for a score. When it went to replay, there was no angle along the line of scrimmage and no basis for Referee Scott Green to do anything but allow the play to stand.

Zebra hunting: Say one thing for them: That crew was not susceptible to the #RavensBestPlay, as several long throws by the Steelers wound up with early contact by Chargers defenders – and no flags. Now, none of the calls were blatant, but all of them have been called interference by other officials in other games, which is, of course, the problem with pass interference in the NFL being a spot foul.

Game mismanagement: What in the wide, wide world of sports was Mike Tomlin doing by not going for the two-point conversion when the Steelers, trailing by 24, scored with about six minutes left!!!! Even Jim Nantz quickly realized that three eights are 24 and a three-score deficit is not insurmountable with that much time remaining!!!!!! And even more importantly, why would you leave your already-injured, franchise QB in such a game if you’re not trying to win??? It makes us think the coach was in no better frame of mind than his players entering the game.

Hot topics:

+ Obviously, the rusty offense early and the turnovers late decided that game on the scoreboard. But if you’re talking about the Chargers taking the heart out of the Steelers, that happened when a patchwork offensive line, featuring three guys who were out of football several weeks ago, manhandled the Pittsburgh front seven. So much for James Harrison’s return to form. So much for Jason Worilds (totally invisible) making us forget about LaMarr Woodley.

+ The Steelers might want to check out the same street where the Chargers picked those linemen in looking for some secondary help. Although, to be fair, it’s the first time this year that the loss of Bill Gay has been felt.

+ Pittsburgh’s offensive line was putrid against a fast Chargers defense. Willie Colon was obviously not ready to return and Calvin Beachum was consistently beaten on speed rushes.

+ It took way too long for Steelers coaches to make Jonathan Dwyer the feature back and now it’s taking way too long for them to realize that Dwyer, not Isaac Redman, is the short-yardage back (although they’re certainly not doing Redman any favors on short yardage running him eight yards deep in the I).

In the booth:

+ Phil Simms has seriously lost it as an analyst. A lot of people don’t like Collinsworth or Mayock, but both of those guys clearly demonstrate each week that they understand the game and have studied the teams playing. Simms used to be like that, but he’s just lost now. Pass interference is “good coverage.” A terrible throw by the quarterback is “good coverage.” It’s really quite sad.

+ Simms showed how little film he watches by offering glowing praise to Ziggy Hood early in the game (after Hood’s coverage sack), claiming Hood is showing improvement every week. Nantz noted the big plays last week, but failed to note the sack came on a play Flacco held the ball for literally eight second and the fumble recovery came when Hood was blown off the ball and wound up at the right place at the right time. Don’t get us wrong, we’d love to see Hood improve and that high draft pick pan out, but that ain’t reality right now.

And now, a word from our sponsors…:

+ A guest “sweet tweet” from @PayneNFL: I simply do not understand the two bathtubs in the Cialis commercial. Isn’t sex in one bathtub hard enough as it is?

Sweet tweet: “@CdrEck: At least Nantz can compliment the Steelers physician.” (Blogger’s note: Rimshot!)

Next week: Pittsburgh travels to Dallas to face a Cowboys team coming off a big, emotional win and still fighting for a playoff spot. When healthy, the Cowboys can put one of the most talented offenses in the NFL on the field with Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Defensively, the Cowboys are better against the pass than the rush, largely because their sack production is way down over 2012.

Playoff picture: Here is how insane (and sad) the AFC Playoff picture is. If the Dolphins lose a late game today at San Francisco, the Steelers could lose next week at Dallas (where they’ll be underdogs) and STILL control their own destiny by beating the Bengals and Browns at home. Assuming that Dolphins loss, the only teams that could match Pittsburgh at 9-7 would be Cincinnati and the New York Jets and the Steelers would control the head-to-head tiebreaker with each of them.

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