Labriola On

Labriola on the loss to the Ravens

You gotta make the field goal. At least one of them.

Oh, there's plenty to criticize and second-guess. There's a list of guys who didn't make the plays they should have or could have at critical moments. There was a lot of that going on down on the floor of Heinz Field on Thursday night, and it's possible to formulate an argument that any number of those instances could be cut out and cast as the reason the Steelers lost, 23-20, in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens.

Coming into the game without Ben Roethlisberger, injured in the third quarter of the previous Sunday's win in St. Louis, the Steelers were facing a bitter rival made desperate by being 0-3, and knowing they had to do it with a backup quarterback who was rusty in many ways.

Mike Vick hadn't played a lot in 2014 and then he didn't do anything football-related until after Aug. 25 when the Steelers signed him because Bruce Gradkowski had to go on injured reserve. By then, training camp and the bulk of the preseason was over, and the Steelers opened against the defending champion Patriots four days before the rest of the league. Roethlisberger needed to get as much of the work he believed he needed to be prepared.

With the Patriots as the opening opponent, and then the 49ers following in a home opener that became more important because of the loss in New England, there just wasn't a lot left for Mike Vick. Not only was Vick not getting a lot of exposure to the Steelers' offense, coordinator Todd Haley wasn't able to develop any hard evidence concerning Vick's strengths at 35 and then how he fit in to the general framework of the offense and this personnel.

Take a short week of preparation for the Ravens and add to it the worry over Vick's penchant for turnovers, and there was the potential for a lot of what ended up on display Thursday night. Too many plays were ruined by the process of trying to figure out what this offense with Vick at quarterback could execute against these backs-to-the-wall Ravens. Vick was inaccurate some, with the worst being a bad throw in overtime on a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 33-yard line to Antonio Brown, but he also had a 36-yard touchdown pass to Brown that wasn't caught but should have been. Play calls, decisions on whether and when to be aggressive vs. by-the-book, poor unit execution, individuals failing to make plays – all of it contributed to what seemed to be a general lack of confidence in the offense, and it was getting worse instead of better as the game wore on.

Game action from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 4 game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.

In the face of this, the Steelers defense held up. It was put into some bad positions by its offense's woes, but it also was put in a position to make some plays by taking advantage of "the Ravens have coaches, too" theorem. Sure, Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, and Mike Vick had their what-are-they-thinking moments, but so did John Harbaugh, Marc Trestman, and Joe Flacco. It was that kind of a game.

It was the kind of game where the Ravens bet three points on a fake field goal attempt and lost, the kind of game where both teams had 100-yard rushers and yet both had their quarterbacks running on fourth downs. On purpose. As Bill Cowher once so eloquently put it, "It was no Mozart."

But the sourest of notes was the kicker. Josh Scobee, acquired for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft after the Steelers lost Shaun Suisham to a knee injury and Garrett Hartley to a hamstring injury, missed his third and fourth field goal attempts of this four game season, and he missed these two at times of the game where either would have been the difference.

The tune goes that in games such as this there are dozens of examples of the game being lost, and so it's unfair to point to a single act – such as missing a field goal – as the reason for defeat. But the reality of it is: that's the job. In the NFL it's the job of the kicker to come through in the situations in which Scobee didn't – from 49 yards out with 2:24 left in a game his team led by 20-17, and then from 41 yards out with 1:06 left in a game his team still led by 20-17.

Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert figure to huddle to decide whether they believe Scobee still can learn to handle the significant upgrade in expectations as the Steelers' kicker after spending all of his previous NFL seasons in no-pressure Jacksonville, but there is no argument that he didn't handle it against the Ravens.

If there was an aggrieved party in black-and-gold on Thursday night, it was the Steelers defense. Five sacks of a quarterback who had been sacked just twice in the first three games, plus two takeaways, plus five passes defensed, plus turning the ball over on downs three times, and only allowing two touchdowns should have been good enough. It represented another step forward as a unit, and it had young up-and-comers such as Stephon Tuitt and Sean Spence and Ross Cockrell take steps forward as individuals.

If you make the field goal, you're able to work on all aspects of the offense and continue the steady process of improving the defense as a 3-1 team. As a 3-1 team that would have self-administered a shot of confidence that it was capable of surviving the absence of its franchise quarterback while sending home its bitterest rival with an 0-4 albatross around its neck.

But you gotta make the field goal.

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