PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers were left to process a loss that checks virtually every bad-loss category.
Blowing a 16-point lead at home for the first time in franchise history.
Extending a losing streak.
In-conference, thus negatively impacting playoff positioning.
Sunday’s 33-30 loss to the Chargers cuts deep, but the Steelers know how to spin this forward with optimism. Asked about panic levels, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said “none.”
“It’s just two losses. We good,” cornerback Joe Haden said about back-to-back losses to Denver and Los Angeles. “We’re still on the path of what we need to do. We’ve still got four games left. We’ve just got to tighten back up.”
Even if all that is true, the Steelers (7-4-1) are about to find out whether these recent gaffes are out of character or a byproduct of a pretty good — but not great — team.
They definitely face these concerns with the Baltimore Ravens (7-5), winners of three straight, climbing to within a half-game of first place in the AFC North.
The miscues are glaring enough where questions must be answered starting Sunday in Oakland. The four turnovers in Denver might have been an aberration. But on this night, the offense looked rattled early in the second half when the Chargers turned up the pass rush. And Los Angeles’ offense went for 231 yards and 19 points on its final three drives. Receivers going for too many yards after the catch was an issue, and once that happened, the Chargers ran the ball effectively. The defense is predicated on sacks and turnovers, and with two sacks and no turnovers, it’s hard to beat top-shelf quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers.
“You can’t say anything about our offense — our offense scored 30 points,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “As a defense, we’re not getting the job done.”
Now, Tom Brady and Drew Brees await over the final three weeks. Brady’s Patriots comes to Pittsburgh in Week 15, and the Steelers follow that with a road game at New Orleans. That’s one brutal back-to-back.
The Ravens face a similar challenge with road games at Los Angeles and Kansas City in December.
At least Antonio Brown’s 154-yard performance could be a springboard to a late-season spark. Brown and Roethlisberger have a way of turning turmoil into touchdowns. Whether Brown beats up a Gatorade cooler or Big Ben rips him on the radio, they say nice things about each other afterward and put up yards on the field.
So when Roethlisberger criticized Brown’s route-running on his radio show, you knew they’d perform well in Heinz Field. Brown hadn’t surpassed 117 yards before Sunday night, when he was winning against a high-level corner, Casey Hayward. Roethlisberger was finding him deep and completed six of his first seven targets to Brown.
When these two get hot, not many are better.
And Brown plans to set a tone as the team relies on him more than ever.
“We don’t make excuses,” Brown said. “We still have a quarter left of football, and we still have our goals right in front of us.”