How does this happen?
How does a team in control of its own playoff fate with the regular season into December lose a game at home to an opponent that hadn't beaten anybody but the Kansas City Chiefs since the middle of September? It's OK to embrace the concept of parity and believe in the principle of any-given-Sunday, but San Diego crossing three time zones to come to Pittsburgh for a 1 p.m. game and dominate a Steelers team coming off a win in Baltimore in which it was down to its No. 3 quarterback stretches the concept to its limits.
It always is Coach Mike Tomlin's M.O. to praise the opponent, especially after a loss, but it seemed as though the main thing the Chargers did to hang a 34-24 whipping on the Steelers that was much more decisive than those numbers was show up ready to play when the game started. That the Steelers didn't look like they were ready to play when the game started, that they were unable to match the intensity of a 4-8 team signing offensive linemen off the street, a team whose general manager and head coach both have been reported to be dead men walking, is something worse than inexcusable.
"You can't overlook anybody," said Brett Keisel. "You can't think just because of someone's record they're not going to play. That's why we lost today – I don't think guys were ready to play."
Again, with the questions. How does that happen? Why does that happen?
Why has it happened to this team four times now, that it has gone into a game against an obviously inferior opponent and hasn't been ready to play, unless there is some other way to explain the losses to the 3-10 Oakland Raiders, the 4-9 Tennessee Titans, the 5-8 Cleveland Browns and the now 5-8 San Diego Chargers. Rank ineptitude doesn't wash, either, because the same Steelers went to Cincinnati and won, they went to New York and beat the defending champion Giants, they went to Baltimore and snapped the Ravens' 15-game home winning streak.
Those are not the accomplishments of the lucky, which makes last Sunday's showing against the Chargers so confounding and frustrating.
No takeaways, again. Too many penalties, again. Lapses of mind and/or body by some of the most important players on the roster.
There was the third-and-10 for the Chargers that turned into a conversion when Troy Polamalu and then James Harrison – two recent NFL Defensive Players of the Year – jumped offside on consecutive snaps. There was a touchdown allowed when Antonio Brown – a Pro Bowl player last year – couldn't or didn't jump on a football that was loose in his own end zone.
These are not the actions of a focused, prepared group, and there just doesn't seem to be a plausible explanation for why the group isn't focused, for why a team with a veteran core experienced in just the kind of approach necessary to make the postseason and then succeed in it looks so unprepared in games against inferior competition.
What's certain is there will be a winner of the AFC North Division, and what's becoming apparent is there will be one other team joining Indianapolis as the two wild cards.
Sometimes it has looked as though that team would be the Steelers. On this day, not so much.
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