By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com During their run to the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy, the Steelers at times were dominant, and on the occasions when they were not, somebody on the team stepped forward to make a big play at a critical moment.
The Steelers won 12 regular season games in 2008, and the victories over Houston, Cincinnati twice, Washington, New England and Cleveland could be characterized as instances when they clearly had the better of the play throughout.
But then there was Deshea Townsend vs. Dallas, James Harrison vs. San Diego, Ben Roethlisberger in Jacksonville, the drive in Baltimore, when someone or some unit came together and got it done when the team absolutely had to have it.
This season, the Steelers have been neither dominant nor opportunistic, at least not on a consistent basis, and Coach Mike Tomlin sees that as a compelling reason why the team has fallen to 6-7 via a five-game losing streak.
"First and foremost we have a desire to play dominant football. We haven't done that," said Tomlin. "When you don't play dominant football, you have to be opportunistic and make timely plays. We haven't done that either. When you're not dominant, and you don't make timely plays, you lose football games. We've lost five in a row to this point."
The Steelers haven't dominated any of the six teams they have defeated so far, with the possible exception of Denver on that Monday night back in early November. Even the victories in Detroit and vs. Cleveland at Heinz Field were hanging in the balance late in the game, but at least in those situations some plays were made at key times to seal the outcome.
Against the Lions, for example, three successive sacks by the defense closed out the final attempt by Detroit to score the touchdown and two-point conversion that was the difference in the 28-20 final.
"Again, you desire to be dominant, but it's not a requirement when it comes to winning," said Tomlin. "We've lacked dominance in the past, but we've found ways to win because we made significant plays at significant moments. This year – specifically in this run – we haven't been dominant and we haven't made the significant plays to close out and win football games.
"That's what we're working toward. We're working toward dominance, and if we can't have dominance we definitely have to have timely plays. And we've been in position to make those plays, but we just haven't made them."
Against Cincinnati, there were missed tackles on a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in an 18-12 loss; in Kansas City, Ike Taylor dropped an interception the play before Chris Chambers' 61-yard catch-and-run set up the game-winning field goal in overtime; in Baltimore, the Ravens hit a 15-yard pass on third-and-22 and then converted the fourth down to kick the tying field goal and send the game into overtime; and vs. the Raiders, it was Joe Burnett's dropped interception on the drive that produced the game-winning touchdown.
And because those plays weren't made, Tomlin believes the memories of the events of those games have been shaped differently.
"Win or lose, people get physically beaten in every football game, people get schematically beaten in every football game, particularly when you're not dominant," said Tomlin. "But if you find ways to make significant plays, some of those failures are a distant memory. If Joe Burnett catches the ball vs. Oakland, we probably wouldn't think about some of the physical failures or schematic failures that happened defensively in that game. He didn't. We lost. So it's etched in your memory. That comes with coaching and playing in this business, particularly at this level.
"Every time you roll the ball out, you're going to lose some physical battles, you're going to lose some schematic battles. You better win more than you lose, and you better make timely plays if you're not dominant. Of course, we haven't done either lately."
Neither dominant nor opportunistic
By BOB LABRIOLA