The Steelers have lost the last two weeks by not coming up with a big play at the right time, especially on defense.
They won the Super Bowl last year by making those plays.
It's no coincidence that the last two weeks the Steelers have been without injured safety Troy Polamalu. He's the type of player who makes those plays.
Although one could point to many single plays that could have turned the game in the Steelers' favor last Sunday in a 23-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals - the Limas Sweed drop and the Santonio Holmes wrong route among them - two stand out the most.
In the fourth quarter, the Steelers held a 20-9 lead, and Bengals running back Cedric Benson found an opening, turned the corner and raced 23 yards to the end zone. Tyrone Carter, Polamalu's replacement, was late getting over to Benson. Polamalu most likely would have taken down Benson and possibly held the Bengals to a field goal.
The second play was when the Bengals faced a fourth and 10 with 36 seconds remaining, and Carson Palmer moved around in the pocket and hit running back Brian Leonard, who had a step on James Farrior and stretched for the first down. That's a play Polamalu many times anticipates and may have been able to race across the field and prevent the first down.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says the expectations don't go down when a backup is forced into the starting lineup. The Steelers also say their defensive scheme hasn't changed with Polamalu on the bench.
But it's become further evident that Polamalu is irreplaceable and ranks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the two players the Steelers can least afford to have injured.
n Farrior, now 34, has been a step behind on several key plays the last two weeks.
n Where's LaMarr Woodley been?
n Luckily for the Steelers, the emergence of rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace has given the team an injection of youth that the 2008 draft has yet to provide.
NFL?Week No. 4
Game of the week: Baltimore at New England, 1 p.m. (CBS).
Upset special: Green Bay (+3) at Minnesota.
Fantasy tip: Look for the Giants' Brandon Jacobs to get several touchdown chances against the Chiefs, who've given up five rushing scores this year.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.