NASHVILLE – Certainly, they had to have learned their lesson in Oakland. It was there, and just three weeks ago, that the Steelers figured out a way to lose to a bad Raiders team. It's not easy losing to the NFL's bad teams when you have a franchise quarterback who is playing well, but the Steelers managed it on the West Coast with a combination of gaffes that served first to instill hope where there was none.
The process of instilling hope in a downtrodden opponent is not a simple matter, and it cannot necessarily be accomplished the same way every time. There has to be some creativity of ineptitude, and through the first five games of their season, the 2012 Steelers have been way too creative.
It would be easy to descend into sarcasm, to mock their failings, to ridicule their mistakes, to engage in a bit of professional name-calling. After all, the Steelers are 2-3 following a 26-23 loss to a Tennessee Titans outfit that had lost four games by a combined 140-44 and won one by three points in overtime only after allowing two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds to tie the score in the first place.
The Titans were able to stay close enough to the Steelers last Thursday night to find some hope where ordinarily there would have been none. They stayed close through a combination of bad defense, penalties, inefficient offense, and a blocked punt that was recovered at the Steelers' 1-yard line.
A shaky start for the defense, but a sack by James Harrison convinced the Titans to settle for a field goal, and this could have been a prime opportunity for one of the Steelers' other phases to pick up the team. So Chris Rainey returns the ensuing kickoff 49 yards, and Ben Roethlisberger converts a third-and-6 with a pass to Isaac Redman, whose refusal to be tackled ended 33 yards later on the Titans 18-yard line.
But then they had to settle for a field goal, and the course of the night was set. There would be plays made, things done correctly and efficiently, but then always there was some mis-step. A blown coverage, a penalty, a dropped interception. A blocked punt.
The Steelers kept mixing in just enough bad at inopportune moments to find a way to lose another football game. And everybody contributed.
Ben Roethlisberger passes for 363 yards and the touchdown to Wallace in a game in which he also vaulted Terry Bradshaw to sit atop the franchise's all-time passing yardage list, but an interception with the Steelers in scoring territory jump-started a Titans possession that netted a field goal on the final play of the first half.
Coach Mike Tomlin decided to let Shaun Suisham attempt a 54-yard field goal late in a tie game, with the penalty for a miss being great field position for the Titans to get into field goal range for Rob Bironas.
Ike Taylor got flagged for holding on a 3-yard pass on a third-and-10 to give the Titans a first down at the Steelers 10-yard line. Tackle the catch, and it's a field goal attempt, but instead it ended with Tennessee's tying touchdown. And seven plays before that, Keenan Lewis dropped the interception that seals a victory.
And so at a time when the league's good teams are finding ways to win, the Steelers continue to find ways to lose.
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