In what could have been the most costly loss of the season, the Dallas Cowboys were able to play themselves back into the Playoffs. However, Pittsburgh might have just cost themselves a chance at the post-season after another demoralizing defeat at the hands of weaker opponents.
The Steelers (7-7) can now add the Cowboys to their list of heartbreaking losses late in games, a list that includes the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers (all of whom will not be in contention for Playoff berths). Essentially, Pittsburgh created the ultimate do-or-die situation when they host the rival Bengals next weekend. If they are able to come away with a victory on Sunday, the fate of the team rests with the Ravens ability to beat the Bengals in the final week of the season. Even if the Steelers lose to the Browns again in Week 17, a Bengals loss and a Jets loss would still mean the Playoffs are a possibility. Just to be safe, the boys in Black and Gold need to treat the next two games with a win or go home mentality, something that should not be a problem for divisional rivalry games.
Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys simply outplayed the Steelers in this one. Romo became the first QB to throw for over 300 yards on the Steelers since Joe Flacco accomplished that feat last season. DeMarco Murray pinballed his way around Steelers defenders, who seemed unable to tackle anybody during the entirety of the contest. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis’ replacements did nothing to instill confidence in their abilities moving forward, and the Cowboys certainly exposed that tonight.
Brandon Carr may have made the play of the year for the Cowboy organization when he picked off Ben Roethlisberger in Overtime and returned the ball all the way to the 1 yard line. A simple chip-shot by Bailey sunk the Steelers, but has not eliminated them yet.
Despite the ugly road loss in which Roethlisberger threw an interception to set up a Dan Bailey game-winning field goal, there are bright spots in the Steelers play right now. First and foremost, David DeCastro is healthy and playing at a high level for a beleaguered offensive line. Secondly, Big Ben is slinging the ball deep down the field with ease. Finally, the receiving corps is getting back to 100%, thanks in part to improved play from Mike Wallace. Wallace is beginning to look like the player of old with an increase in the vertical routes being called for him. Todd Haley is really doing a nice job calling plays for Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Heath Miller, all of whom are at or near Pro Bowl levels.
The biggest issue currently facing this particular Pittsburgh squad is the rash of injuries being suffered on a weekly basis. In a game that saw practice squad members Robert Golden and Josh Victorian see significant minutes due to injury, even the struggling Tony Romo was able to pick apart the league’s first-ranked passing defense. If the Steelers are to make a Playoff push, Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and Cortez Allen all need to get back on the field to help Polamalu and Clark make plays for this stout defensive unit. Defensive linemen also need to do a better job of penetrating the gaps in the opposing O-line and put some pressure on the QBs. In consecutive weeks, the struggling Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo have thrown for at least 250+ yards on a team that was allowing less than 200 yards/game. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, two of the Steelers first-round draft picks in recent year, really need to step up their performances. If neither is able to pressure the opposing signal caller, it may be time for Pittsburgh to try again via the draft, something the organization is known for doing well.
Though the future looks bleak, Steelers fans should not panic. Since Tomlin was hired back in 2007, the Steelers have only missed the Playoffs one year (2009). Again, a game featuring fifth and sixth-string defensive backs can only show the desperation that injury can create. In all honesty, fans will point the fingers and blame someone for a “failure” of the 2012 campaign, but there is still hope. Pittsburgh can do itself a favor by defeating the Bengals at Heinz Field. The Steelers hold their fate in their own hands; we shall see how they respond in a week.
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