So close and yet so far. The Steelers had every chance to win Sunday's game against the Ravens. However, costly penalties throughout the game kept them from improving to a perfect 4-0 record.
Instead, the Steelers drop to 3-1 in a sloppy 17-14 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens.
We all knew what the stakes were coming into this game: win the game and the Steelers continue to keep sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
So what did the Steelers do? They came out and completely shot themselves in the foot with penalties and practically handed the Ravens a win and a share of first place in the division.
It was only a matter of time before poor offensive production would be the team's downfall.
The offense only found a true rhythm twice and committed the majority of the penalties.
The offensive line showed no signs of its dominating performance last week as they got manhandled by the Ravens' front seven. Even Maurkice Pouncey struggled a bit.
There were too many false starts and holding penalties that completely killed promising drives.
The most memorable moment was at the end of the game when the Steelers were on their own 3-yard line.
Chris Kemoeatu and Matt Spaeth were both called for false starts, and as a result the Steelers could not pick up a first down to put the game away.
When they tried to get the running game going, the line could not open holes for Rashard Mendenhall, who only gained 79 yards on 25 attempts. Pass protection was so-so as it only allowed Charlie Batch to get sacked twice.
Besides the offensive line's shoddy performance, Mendenhall still managed to churn out two touchdowns. He was easily the bright spot in the offense and, better yet, he managed to hang on to the football all day.
Batch had an up-and-down day. At times he looked good in the pocket making nice throws. At other times, he would stand in the pocket too long to try to make a play with almost disastrous results.
Nobody can stick with Mike Wallace in coverage. If Batch could actually hit him in stride, you'd notice it more. However, Batch underthrew all his deep passes to Wallace and, the one he put on the money, was ripped out of Wallace's hands at the last second.
Batch was trying too hard to make plays as the game wore on. I think he needs a reminder that he is not Big Ben and cannot shake off tacklers and still make a play. Unfortunately Batch threw the game-clinching interception right to Ray Lewis. Of all the times to turn the ball over, he had to do it at the end of the game.
Batch did have some good moments when Pittsburgh converted some nice first downs and did an excellent job with using a hard count that drew an offsides penalty at least five times.
Overall the offense gets a D+. There were simply too many penalties and mental errors today. The offense looked out of sync except for the drives when they actually scored.
The good news is there is a bye next week that will give everyone enough time to fix their mistakes and get in a rhythm with Big Ben.
Previous Weeks: D-/A+
Season Average: C-
Whenever Joe Flacco has played the Steelers, he has turned the ball over multiple times and has been sacked at least four times. This was not the case Sunday as Flacco only got sacked once and turned the ball over once.
I think the major reason Flacco wasn't sacked a lot is because Dick LeBeau was not dialing up enough pressure.
I constantly saw four-man rushes with a fifth man coming occasionally, if at all. I know in a 3-4 defense a four-man rush is technically a blitz, but it was not enough to force Flacco into mistakes.
Getting pressure was the least of our problems. Poor tackling also contributed to the Ravens getting a good start early on.
James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons both missed tackles on Willis McGahee's touchdown run in the first half.
Penalties by the defense also aided the Ravens, giving them four first downs although some of them were questionable.
There were a lot of bright spots in the defense. Casey Hampton got his first sack of the season when he knocked the ball out of Flacco's hand before the Ravens recovered.
Troy Polamalu had another excellent game and got off to a great start by blowing up a running play behind the line for a 3-yard loss. He finished the day with four tackles.
Timmons did a nice job containing the running backs, although he did miss a few crucial tackles. On the other hand he made some crucial tackles that prevented a few potential big gains. Ray Rice didn't play much this game so Timmons was mainly shadowing McGahee. Timmons finished the game with 13 tackles.
Ike "Stone Hands" Taylor came up with a crucial interception around the Ravens' 30-yard line in the third quarter. You would have thought he was the receiver as he played the ball the whole time and made a nice catch over Derrick Mason. Taylor finished with six tackles.
James Harrison had a great all-around day as he had six tackles, drew two holding penalties, forced a fumble, and knocked McGahee out of the game.
Ryan Clark knocked Le'Ron McLain out of the game, forcing the Ravens had to go with Rice in the fourth quarter. Clark finished the day with nine tackles.
Overall the defense gets a B-. They did enough to win the game. The unit had an amazing goal-line stand in the final minutes of the game that should have ended it.
They only got one sack, but managed to force two turnovers. True they gave up the winning touchdown but weren't helped by the fact the offense failed to capitalize on turnovers, which in turn kept the defense on the field too long.
I think they didn't play as aggressive these last two games as they did the first two. I think that chip on their shoulder was gone once everyone started to favor them. They need to put it back on because Steelers fans will not stand for poor defense two years in a row.
Previous weeks: A++/ A-
Season average: B+
Special teams, having gone the last two weeks without any major faults, screwed up again and played a vital part in the loss.
This time it wasn't due to the coverage units as they had a great game. I'm talking about the so-called dependable Jeff Reed, who missed two crucial field goals from 49 and 46 yards.
On the first one the wind blew to the right. On the second Reed pulled too far to the left to try to offset the wind.
Had Reed made those kicks, the Steelers would have probably won 20-17. Instead, he cost the team a chance to go 4-0. He also missed at another tackle attempt on a kickoff that was luckily called back due to a holding penalty.
He wasn't the only bad part on special teams.
Antwaan Randle El muffed a punt that he was extremely lucky to recover. At the end of the game, right after a false start penalty on offense, Keyaron Fox holds on the ensuing punt. Had he been a few inches behind him, it would have been a safety. The penalty advanced the ball to the 40-yard line and helped the Ravens to score the winning touchdown.
Overall special teams gets a D. Reed's two missed field goals are inexcusable and so was the holding call near the end zone right after the offense got called for false starts.
Previous weeks: A/A
Season average: C+
Some of the blame has to go to the coaching staff for the loss.
I rarely do this but I'm going to give Dick LeBeau a good portion of the blame here. Why in the world did the defensive coordinator barely blitz today?
Flacco has never succeeded against it before so why wasn't it brought more often?
It was obvious that rushing four and dropping seven wasn't going to cut it by the first quarter. Being the genius that he is, I thought LeBeau would have recognized this and made adjustments. He failed to do so and Flacco had a nice pocket in which to throw the ball all day.
Bruce Arians didn't have a bad day, but the offensive coordinator didn't have a good day either. He barely used Isaac Redman, choosing to let Mendenhall carry the load. That was okay, but I would have loved to see Redman get a few more touches.
Where was the Wildcat? I was looking for it all game and never saw it. I would have thought Arians would have tried a few plays out of it, just to keep the defense guessing. Then again, when was the last time Arians thought outside the box?
Special teams coach Al Everest needs to have a talk with Jeff Reed. He is missing too many field goals and it's hurting the team. Everest needs to find someway to help him correct it.
Was it just me or was Tomlin not his usual active screaming self? He's usually screaming at somebody after a bad play or cursing out the defense. He had plenty of opportunities today, but he kept silent.
I'm not going to blame Tomlin too much for this loss, though I do feel he could have made some adjustments in the game himself to preserve the win.
Overall coaching gets a B. They do not play the game and make the plays. The players do and they didn't today. The coaching staff can't get all the blame.
I was hoping to do an article about the team going 4-0, but I can't now. Still, we proved the haters wrong and we got by Ben's suspension at 3-1.
Yes, we lost to the Ravens—the team nobody wanted to loses to—but in the end, we come out winners.
When Ben returns to practice Monday, he will be presented with a winning record and a lot of breathing room for the rest of the season.
This takes a lot of pressure off of him as he doesn't have to try to save the season. All he has to do now is maintain it.
Of course we will have to wait awhile before we see him play as the Steelers have a bye next week. That's a good thing too because I'm sure the injury list just got bigger after today's game.
Now the players will have a week off to heal any nagging injuries and two weeks to get in a rhythm with Ben.
Overall grade: C
Previous weeks: A/B+
Season average: B