Steelers season not doomed
Monday, November 23, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Somebody with a microphone asked Steelers safety Tyrone Carter if the better team won here yesterday. It seemed like such a jarring question considering the Kansas City Chiefs are a miserable team that came in 2-7 and the Steelers like to think of themselves as Super Bowl contenders. Or at least did.

"You're a comedian," safety Ryan Clark growled at the media type from two lockers down.

Funny, Clark wasn't laughing.

The only thing laughable on this day at Arrowhead Stadium was the Steelers' performance. It was so bad it would have been an absolute crime if they had somehow won the game. Justice clearly was served when the Chiefs' Ryan Succop booted a 22-yard field goal in overtime for the 27-24 win.

Having written that, though, I don't think for a second that the Steelers' season is doomed because of this second consecutive loss, bad as it was. I'll be surprised if they don't play a great game at Baltimore Sunday night. In fact, I'm going to make a bold prediction ...

Not that the Steelers will beat the Ravens. I can't go there until I know quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play. He left in overtime with a concussion after taking a knee in the head from linebacker Derrick Johnson, easily the worst part of a rotten afternoon when the team also lost guard Chris Kemoeatu with a potentially serious knee injury.

But I will predict the Steelers won't give up a kickoff return for a touchdown to the Ravens. Talk about climbing way out on a limb!

"It's embarrassing," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said of Jamaal Charles' 97-yard kickoff return that gave the Chiefs a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds in. "That's four already this season, right?"

Four in the past five games, actually.

"That's never happened before in history," Ward said. I don't know about you, I'm willing to forgive his redundancy. His point nearly was dead-on: Before these Steelers, only the 1998 Minnesota Vikings had allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season. "It's embarrassing," Ward said again.

A lot that happened to the Steelers was.

They were called for five holding penalties, the biggest part of their absurdly high 85 penalty yards. Wide receiver Mike Wallace lost a fumble in Chiefs' territory fighting for extra yards. Roethlisberger threw one interception when his perfect pass clanged off tight end Heath Miller's hands, another when he was hit by linebacker Tamba Hali as he threw on a first-and-goal play at the Chiefs' 10 late in the third quarter. That second one really hurt because linebacker Andy Studebaker returned it 94 yards to set up a field goal. Roethlisberger was sacked on each of the final two drives of regulation and a third sack was nullified by an illegal contact penalty on Chiefs defensive end Wallace Gilberry. Running back Mewelde Moore was thrown for a 3-yard loss on third-and-2 from the Chiefs' 35 in overtime.

Whew, this is exhausting.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend was beaten by wide receiver Lance Long for a 30-yard pass play midway through the fourth quarter, Clark by wide receiver Chris Chambers for 47 yards on the next play. Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor dropped interceptions, Taylor's drop coming in overtime on the play before quarterback Matt Cassel hit Chambers for 61 yards to set up the winning field goal. Clark took a horrible angle and missed the tackle on that overtime play, which Carter said happened because he and Taylor didn't get the defensive call from the sideline.

Did I mention it would have been a crime if the Steelers had won?

It's hard to believe an alleged good team can play so poorly against an overmatched opponent.

This easily was the most embarrassing loss of the Mike Tomlin era.

"We are capable of much more than that," the man himself said of the debacle. "That is not us and it won't be us. [But] it was us today."

This is the second time this season that the Steelers have lost two in a row. I remember writing after their losses to the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals that it was the first real adversity Tomlin had faced. But this seems worse. "I would say so, yeah," Ward said. There's so little season left, just six games. Who knows what Roethlisberger's status will be at a time when all NFL teams are on red alert for head injuries?

"[Tomlin] is our leader and the veteran guys on this team will do what he says," Ward said. "All of us are responsible for this. All of us need to look in the mirror."

What will look back is hideous, a 6-4 team that can't seem to get out of its own way right now. The Steelers' play the past two games was hardly Super Bowl-caliber. It was more Chiefs-like.

Not to try to be funny because I'm pretty sure Clark wouldn't like that. Or Tomlin, for that matter.

"What we won't do is point fingers," the coach said. "What we won't do is come apart ... These are the kind of men we have in our locker room."

I believe him.

I, for one, refuse to hurt myself jumping off the bandwagon.

Not just yet, anyway.

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