By Chris Bradford
December 8, 2013
Charles Clay scores the Miami Dolphins' winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving Cortez Allen (center) and Troy Polamalu in his wake. (Jim Rassol, Sun Sentinel)
PITTSBURGH — In a season of mind-numbing defeats and inconsistent performances, Sunday’s was easily the most entertaining. But, in the end, it counts as just another loss.
It merely confirmed what many had long suspected: These Steelers are not a playoff team. At 5-8, they are not even close.
After a wild ending in which the Steelers thought they had won, only to lose on another sideline controversy, their 34-28 loss in the snow at Heinz Field to Miami finally ended the charade.
There are no shortages of reasons why the Steelers’ season will end before the New Year even begins. Their 0-4 start, including inexcusable losses to Tennessee, Oakland and Minnesota, along with injuries, certainly didn’t help. But it’s been their inability to prevent the big play all season that will leave them at home in January.
There was Giovanni Bernard’s 27-yard touchdown reception in Cincinnati and there was Adrian Peterson’s 60-yard TD run in London. There was Earl Bennett’s 17-yard TD reception against Chicago and there was Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in Oakland. And there was Aaron Dobson’s 81-yard catch in New England and Torrey Smith’s 55-yard catch in Baltimore.
Sense a recurring theme?
On Sunday, it was Ryan Tannehill breaking off a 48-yard run in the first quarter. It was Daniel Thomas’ 55-yard run in the third quarter.
“Everyone was where they were supposed to be,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “The guy just broke free.”
And then there was Charles Clay’s 13-yard touchdown reception on the following play, in which Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen failed to make a routine tackle, instead going for a strip and getting only air.
“We’re giving up too many big plays on defense and it’s happening from all over,” Polamalu said.
The only positive from Sunday’s loss is that it allows the Steelers a chance to look into their future, albeit a few weeks sooner then they would like. It’s a future that can’t include Ryan Clark or Ike Taylor or Woodley or, yes, even the great Polamalu.
All are -- or were -- great players. They are all part of a legacy that returned glory to Pittsburgh but change is needed after a remarkable decade-long run. But they are a half-step slower, and as the Steelers found out Sunday, inches can decide outcomes.
“I’ve realized, probably because I’m older, faces change,” Clark said. “You lose James Farrriors, lose Aaron Smiths, you lose Casey (Hampton). It hurts. It’s tough. But everybody’s time comes.”
Indeed, the time has come for the Steelers to make bold changes in their defense, the secondary in particular. Maybe it’s time to give starting jobs to Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas.
At the beginning of the season, the organization bristled at the term “transition.” At 5-8, it’s time to embrace it.
Follow Chris Bradford on Twitter at @BCTBradford