By Joe Starkey
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
If you looked hard enough Sunday evening, you could practically see Heinz Field blushing in shame.
Has there been a more embarrassing football weekend in that stadium?
First, Akron comes in and does a number on Pitt. That was bad enough. It was a disgrace, actually. But it paled in comparison to what happened Sunday afternoon, when the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers — fresh off a 56-14 squeaker in Atlanta — scored with seven seconds left to hand Mike Tomlin his most humiliating home defeat.
OK, the Oakland game from 2009 might have been worse. But the Steelers committed only four penalties in that game. They committed a mind-blowing 13 for 125 yards Sunday to go with multiple other gaffes.
The real shame would have been the Steelers escaping with a wholly undeserved win.
“The bottom line,” Tomlin said, “is that we are an undisciplined group.”
Who could argue? Such unruliness has become a disturbing pattern with this team. It has extended beyond the field, too, whether it's running backs apparently getting stoned hours before one team flight or the offensive coordinator altogether missing another one.
Should it surprise anyone, then, to see this group flagged for 13 penalties in a single game — including three post-play infractions, the surest sign of a lack of discipline?
“We have to fix it,” Tomlin said, before immediately and accurately amending that statement to this: “I have to fix it. And I will.”
That remains to be seen for a 2-2 team that is supposed to be in the soft part of its schedule.
Tampa Bay was so desperate for offensive help that it signed receiver Louis Murphy off the street five days ago. He proceeded to smoke the puny Steelers secondary for six catches and 99 yards.
Murphy made some big plays for that Oakland team five years ago, and he made a 41-yard catch Sunday to set up Vincent Jackson's winning touchdown.
“Something about this place,” Murphy said. “It's electric.”
Oh yeah? It didn't feel so electric when thousands fled for the exits with seven seconds left. That was just before the Steelers' slapstick final play, which ended with Ben Roethlisberger getting crushed and fumbling after catching a lateral.
It didn't feel so electric in the Steelers locker room, either, where safety Mike Mitchell fairly characterized the mood.
“It stinks. It's horrible. I feel sick,” Mitchell said.
Somebody asked linebacker James Harrison how he felt running out of the tunnel before his first game back. Harrison returned a glare that could have melted half of Antarctica.
“Don't really care about how I felt running out of the tunnel,” he said. “We just lost a game.”
If I had any nerve, I would have asked Tomlin what he thought of his team's execution. Maybe he would have answered the way old John McKay did when somebody asked the same question during the Buccaneers' winless 1976 campaign.
“I'm in favor of it,” McKay said.
At times, the Steelers played like the '76 Bucs. It started on the first series, when Cody Wallace lost Gerald McCoy for a sack on second down and nobody blocked Michael Johnson on third down, resulting in a Roethlisberger fumble and, soon enough, a Tampa Bay touchdown.
From there, amid fits of competency that vaulted them to touchdown leads in each half, the Steelers seemed determined to make sure the Bucs retained hope.
• Defensive lineman Cam Thomas made the biggest play on Tampa Bay's second scoring drive: a 15-yard facemask penalty.
• Justin Brown dropped a touchdown pass. What the Steelers see in him, as opposed to Lance Moore, remains a deep mystery.
• Antonio Brown dropped a potential huge gainer on a flea flicker. A few plays later, Roethlisberger missed Brown on what likely would have been a game-clinching bomb.
• On Antonio Brown's first touchdown, he felt the need to spin the ball, perform a dance and flop forward. That cost the Steelers 15 yards.
• Steelers punter Brad Wing delivered a 29-yard stinker to set up the Bucs' winning drive.
• Dri Archer finally had a chance to make a play — he was about to return a kickoff — only to see LeGarrette Blount block his exit route. Thanks, LeGarrette.
• Troy Polamalu helped along two Bucs drives with facemask penalties.
• Jason Worilds contributed all of one tackle.
• Maurkice Pouncey was called for an illegal snap to hurt the Steelers' second-to-last possession. Of course, the Steelers also decided to run the ball on third-and-5 after taking the risk to pass it (and complete it) on second down.
“We kicked our own butt,” Tomlin said.
Maybe the coach should seize on that theme and kick a whole bunch more of it this week.
The mighty Jacksonville Jaguars await.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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