Coming into this game, the Steelers were labeled as a team that nobody wanted to see in the playoffs. With the NFL’s most explosive offense, they were coming off back to back wins over the Bengals and the Broncos, looking like a potential Super Bowl team, then fall to a team who is in competition for the top the top pick in the next NFL Draft. The result of the 20-17 loss to the Ravens, is that the Steelers are no longer in control of their own playoff destiny. To make the postseason, the Steelers have to beat the Cleveland Browns next Sunday, and hope that the Buffalo Bills can upset the New York Jets. Assuming they beat Cleveland, the real question is, if the Steelers do in fact get a gift from Buffalo next Sunday, and gain entrance into the playoffs, how far can they really be expected to advance? In the last 6 weeks, the Steelers have had backup quarterbacks, Johnny Manziel, Brock Osweiler, Matt Hasselbeck and now Ryan Mallett, put up big numbers against their secondary, and in the playoffs, the quarterbacks they face will be capable of inflicting alot more damage.
As disappointing as the loss to Baltimore is, it shouldn’t overshadow what the Steelers have overcome and accomplished to this point in the season. With the injuries they have overcome, along with the two losses directly attributed to Josh Scobey, the Steelers have surpassed all realistic expectations, but they who they are, a team with an explosive offense and a below average defense. Success for the Steelers this season depended on three things to happen, the defense had to force turnovers, at least be average, and the Steelers had to beat the teams they are supposed to. Against Baltimore, none one of those things happened, and on top of that, the offense turned the ball over too many times. It is yet another case of the Steelers playing down to the level of the competition during the Mike Tomlin era, or is it? The Steelers are who they are at this point in the season. The problems against the Ravens began when the Steelers went against everything they do offensively that makes them successful. They were compounded when the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. All game long, in all phases, the Steelers allowed the Ravens to dictate what the Steelers did.
Going into the half, the Steelers already sounded like a defeated team, with Tomlin admitting they were just taking what the Ravens were giving them. With an offense like the Steelers have, going against an injury depleted Ravens defense, they should have been dictating the action, like a playoff team does, but they went conservative and committed four turnovers. That’s why the Steelers are no longer in control of their own playoff destiny. That’s why they have to rely on the help of others to get in. Teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations don’t have to rely on others to help them get into the playoffs, they take care of their own business. Up until yesterday, the Steelers took care of their own business. Losing to a Ravens team that they should have beaten convincingly was a total team effort, from the coaching staff to the players. It was a performance that questions whether the Steelers are actually deserving of a playoff spot. Are the Steelers more like the team that came back to beat the Broncos? Or are they more like the team that lost to the Ravens?
The Steelers had something to play for against the Ravens and fell flat on their faces. Without showing much of anything resembling a sense of urgency, Pittsburgh played like they were the 4-10 team that Baltimore was. They have a chance to show who they are next week against Cleveland, a chance to pound on a team like they should have the pounded the Ravens. It almost doesn’t matter whether the Bills can upset the Jets or not, because what matters most is that the Steelers finish strong against a Browns team that is about the worst in football. With the exception of this past Sunday, the Steelers have played with heart all year, and if they want a chance to have the opportunity to win their first playoff game since 2010, they better find that heart before they arrive in Cleveland.