This one definitely stings. However in retrospect we see that this game was a representation of all the good, bad, and ugly of the Steelers of this year.
The game itself showed a consistent problem with the Steelers this postseason: the inability to play an entire game. Against the Ravens the Steelers trailed 21-3, and against the Jets the Steelers led at the half 24-3. The games ended in Steelers wins 31-24 and 24-19 respectively.
Yes, for those of you who are not brilliant mathematicians like myself, the Steelers were either behind by a combined 37 in two halves or winning the games with a combined 49 points. Those were enough for wins but in a game where the two teams are equal, a full four quarter game must be played. The Steelers stuck true to format and lost the first half 21-10 and won the second half 15-10.
However, within this fault we were witness to the resiliency of the Men of Steel. We saw a team that handed the game to the Packers with three turnovers and never gave up. While the Steelers never saw the lead, they never gave up. Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall stepped up to help Ben Roethlisberger when he was struggling.
The defense was able to make key stops throughout the game allowing for offensive opportunities, none more important than at the end of the game when a goal line stance gave the offense one last shot.
This mentality is a reflection of the quarterback and the head coach—a very good sign for the future of the Steelers.
However this quarterback reverted back to classic form, and not in a good way. Ben tried to be the hero early and often—looking deep in coverage, forcing plays, constantly trying to scramble when he still had a pocket. Ben never looked comfortable, and on 3rd-and-5, instead of looking for Heath or Hines, tried to be the hero and hit Wallace deep.
While Ben showed glimpses of the elite, Montana-like quarterback, he showed that there is still development to be made.
A very pleasant surprise in this game was Rashard Mendenhall who finished with 63 yards on 14 carries (4.5 yards a carry) with one touchdown. Mendenhall looks like a perfect blend of Harris and Bettis with quick feet, patience in the backfield, and big play ability with great size and speed. He shows great potential and the offensive line opened holes even I could have run through.
However, his fumble should not have come as a surprise. While Mendenhall's fumbles have been rare this year, they have not over his career. He has a fumbling issue, and while many argue that the hit Matthews laid was perfect, it hit Mendenhall's arm. If that was Bettis the ball would not have come out. Helmet-on-ball should cause a fumble—nothing else.
Now, that offensive line that opened up amazing holes is very hard to judge. Remember, they played with a patchwork unit and exceeded all expectations. They managed Green Bay's pressure and only allowed one sack. However Ben was hit hard and often, even if it was because of play extensions. This unit, if healthy and with one more draft pick (Mike Pouncy please fall to 31) they could be very effective.
Finally to the defense. They stuffed the run very effectively. One or two big runs by Starks were only eight yards or so but he only had 52 yards. The issue was the pass defense. They played bend-not-break all year and it worked. The pass rush got to Rodgers and hit, sacked, and pounded Aaron so much I thought he was going to sustain another concussion.
However against the Patriots, Saints, and Packers, teams with heavy reliance on the pass, this defense was shredded. William Gay cannot cover one on one at the NFL level. He was burned, turned around, and picked upon.
Ike Taylor was burned at the worst possible time. Troy made one wrong guess the entire game and it ended with a Packers touchdown. The secondary does not need an overhaul, but players like Gay and McFadden (when healthy) cannot play as No. 2 corners time after time against good teams and be successful. There needs to be a draft pick or free agent talent injection.
Overall, the Packers won this game—no debating that—but the Steelers made avoidable mistakes that past experience should have warned them of making. No. 7 will just have to wait. Hopefully, these issues will be addressed and black and gold confetti will rain down.