Still, the question lingers …
Has it been the series of slow starts that have cost the Steelers, or has it been the bad finishes?
“We’ve got to just keep trying to dig and figure out what gives us the best chance to get out of the gates a little better,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley observed recently. “That being said, it’s who scores the most points at the end. It doesn’t matter whether those points come in the beginning, middle or end.”
The Steelers have taken the first lead just three times in eight games, 2-0 over Tennessee, 3-0 over Cincinnati, and 7-0 over Baltimore, so they’ve been playing from behind a lot.
But they’ve also been within one score of either tying the game or taking a lead in the fourth quarter in all six of their losses. Even in last Sunday’s 55-31 defeat in New England.
The opener against Tennessee was a matter of mathematical qualification as opposed to reasonable expectation in that regard.
But they were at least in position to achieve a positive result in their other five losses despite less-than-desirable starts:
SEPT. 16, AT CINCINNATI: After falling behind, 20-10, in a game that had been tied, 10-10, at the half, the Steelers drove to the Bengals’ 27-yard line with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter. But a pass from Roethlisberger to Cotchery on third-and-2 resulted in a tipped ball and an interception that ended their chance to make it a one-score game and ultimately sealed their fate.
SEPT. 22, CHICAGO: The Steelers fell behind, 17-0, but scored 17 unanswered second-half points to pull to within 27-23 early in the fourth quarter. But on third-and-10 from the Chicago 26-yard line with 9:15 remaining, quarterback Jay Cutler scrambled for 13 yards. The Bears turned the extended possession into the touchdown that re-established control at 34-23 on the way to a 40-23 triumph.
SEPT. 29, MINNESOTA (LONDON): The Steelers fell behind 10-0 early and 34-17 in the third quarter but closed to within 34-27 and had the ball at the Minnesota 6-yard line with 24 seconds left in regulation. But from there Roethlisberger threw an incompletion to avoid a sack and then suffered a sack and a lost fumble.
OCT. 27, AT OAKLAND: Trailing by two scores the Steelers called a timeout with 1:43 remaining and the clock stopped prior to a second-and-3 from the Oakland 12-yard line. They eventually got the touchdown and two-point conversion they sought. But with only two timeouts remaining they had to resort to an onside kick attempt, which failed. They eventually got the ball back with only 18 seconds left in regulation in what became a 21-18 setback.
NOV. 3, AT NEW ENGLAND: The Steelers trailed 14-0 in the first quarter and 24-10 at halftime but rallied to tie the game at 24-24 midway through the third. The Patriots responded with an 11-play drive for a field goal that reclaimed the lead at 27-24. The Steelers picked up one first down on their next possession before punting, after which they allowed a 43-yard return, surrendered a 34-yard touchdown drive, punted again following a three-and-out and … well, you know the rest.
It hasn’t all been on the offense, and it hasn’t all been on the slow starts along the way to 2-6. But the offense knows the role it can play in contributing to getting Sunday’s game at Heinz Filed against Buffalo jump-started.
“On the offensive side of the ball we’re just focusing on starting fast,” Cotchery said. “We haven’t really done that. I know the guys are locked in and trying to get that fixed. As far as the other sides of the ball, special teams and defense, I really don’t know their mind-set. But I know we have to get on the board early with a touchdown. It always helps when your offense comes out and scores touchdowns. It creates momentum, that’s what it does.
“Our defense has been a rock for a long time. They’ve bailed us out of many situations. And we haven’t started fast all year. It’s about time that we reverse that and get out there and put a touchdown on the board and get going.”