Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Once-sweet Steelers offense goes sour

Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, 9:39 p.m.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (58) during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 20-17. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (58) during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 20-17. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) 

BALTIMORE — You can throw out the records all right. Just make sure to toss the right records out with those stale Christmas cookies.
Turns out the Steelers offense — with its run of 30-point games and ability to reduce former players-turned-TV talking heads into giggling fanboys — wasn't a super food, but rather only sugar and spice.
No wonder the Steelers crashed hard on Sunday.
Can't live on sugar and spice alone. And even the NFL's sweetest offense can be spoiled.
Ravens 20, Steelers 17, and to the spoiler went the ultimate victory.
The out-of-it Ravens left the Steelers needing help — from the likes of Marvin Lewis (gulp) and Rex Ryan (double gulp) — to reach the Super Bowl tournament.
“We've always said we only stop ourselves,” Ben Roethlisberger said from a cramped visitors locker room at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Well, they did a good job of stopping us today.”
Oh, stop it. Please.
Whether it was Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown or Mike Tomlin, the alleged Men of Steel wills who doled out compliments to their archrivals barely sounded believable.
Steelers hate Ravens. Ravens hate Steelers.
At least when the Ravens beat the Steelers, which was every time they played in 2015, there wasn't an abundance of faux-respect coming from the Baltimore side. Why the Steelers seem so obsessed with paying public respect to their recent opponents is beyond a lot of people.
But I'm not fooled.
I'm wise to Tomlin's wish to modify the New England model into a Steelers Way for today and tomorrow. And I'm cool with Tomlin trying to borrow from the NFL's standard-bearing franchise to make good on his mantra that “the standard is the standard” for his Steelers.
The Patriots' quarterback is Tom Brady.
The Patriots win — and consistently contend for the Super Bowl — because their quarterback is Brady.
The Steelers' quarterback is Roethlisberger.
When the Steelers win — and if they are to ever again contend for the Super Bowl — they will do so because their quarterback is Roethlisberger.
But at some point, Roethlisberger has to make like Tom Brady instead of Brady Quinn when something is on the line.
Something was on the line Sunday. The Steelers were only going to control their playoff destiny if they defeated a battered, beatable, and really bad Baltimore team.
Knowing that — heck, having warned for days that the four-win Ravens weren't to be taken lightly — the Steelers forfeited the control they had gone to ridiculous lengths to earn.
Or do you think scoring 30 points in six consecutive games isn't ridiculous?
It is. And it wasn't sustainable.
Still, an offense that doesn't lack for momentum-shifting and game-changing players — not to mention a future Hall-of-Famer in Roethlisberger and an increasingly likely candidate in Brown — can fairly be expected not to fall completely flat against a middling pass defense.
Yet on Sunday, the Ravens turned the NFL's Flavor of the Month into bland vanilla, limiting the potent Steelers to 303 yards.
Roethlisberger had averaged 366 passing yards in six prior games. He also tossed 13 touchdowns in those contests.
Ben was B-I-G.
The Ravens brought out B-A-D Ben. He threw high or wide and was way off — lucky, really, that his two interceptions weren't three or four.
Didn't throw a touchdown. Didn't complete a couple of deep attempts to Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton on third and fourth downs when the Steelers could have driven to a winning touchdown or tying field goal.
I keep touting Roethlisberger as The Reason the Steelers can run to Super Bowl 50.
I also keep ignoring his three consecutive postseason losses and seven interceptions in his last four playoff contests.
That's on me.
This Steelers loss – one that could cost their coach the opportunity to test his Patriots-like Steelers Way against the Patriots in the playoffs — is on Roethlisberger.
But at least he owned it Sunday, as he does whenever the Steelers lose.
Brown, allegedly the best Steelers receiver since John Stallworth, was forgettable on and off the field. He caught only seven passes, or one for every time he spoke afterward about winning and losing as a team. (Kind of made me miss Hines “I'm the leader of the wideouts” Ward.) As a team, the Steelers used to show up in Baltimore and beat better teams than the one they lost to on Sunday. In those games, I seem to recall Ward or Santonio Holmes not needing a plethora of statistics to make their mark.
Brown should study those games. He might learn something about what it takes to win a ring, which is the thing that makes a great Steelers receiver into a great Steeler.
These Steelers, with their sugar and spice offense, have been a sweet to watch.
But we're probably only going to watch them for one more week, and what kind of standard is that?
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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