The Steelers dropped their home opener to the Patriots, 17-14, at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.
It was the kind of game the Steelers have to play these days, thanks to an offense that’s been downright awful for going on two calendar years.
Pittsburgh’s offense was again atrocious on Sunday, tallying just one touchdown to go along with two Chris Boswell field goals.
It was such a shame to see a fine and solid defensive effort go to waste. Yes, sir, even without T.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, in the lineup, the Steelers’ defense clearly did enough to win and deserved better from the offense.
Only, the Steelers’ defense didn’t do enough to win. Why do I say that? Because Pittsburgh lost the game. I don’t know what it is about Steelers fans locally, nationally and internationally, but they love to prop up the defense and give it the benefit of the doubt no matter what. When evaluating a defensive performance following a loss, fans almost always take the big picture approach and simply cite the number of points given up, as if there is a magical amount that is always acceptable regardless of what occurred during the game.
The offense gets evaluated with much greater scrutiny, however. The Steelers could score six touchdowns in a game, but if the end result is a loss, fans take a more situational approach and cite situational football, like a particular play call, a turnover and/or red zone efficiency.
Nobody ever talks about a prolific offense being gassed or winded late in the fourth quarter after propping up a porous defense all game long–gaining yards and scoring points must rejuvenate the body.
The bottom line for an offense is this: It must continue to execute and score points until it has enough to secure a win.
Why can’t the same be true for a defense when it comes to things like the number of points it allows or a situational moment in the game where it failed?
If you watched Sunday’s game, you know it came down to a few key moments. Yes, the offense was horrible and did little to win the game, but the defense did little to pressure Mac Jones, sacking him zero times and only hitting him thrice.
To reiterate, Watt was out of action–he suffered a pectoral injury in the Week 1 overtime victory against the Bengals and will miss at least a month after being placed on the Injured Reserve list–but zero sacks? So little pressure?
Even without a pass rush, the Steelers’ defense may have done just enough to win on Sunday if cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon would have won the one-on-one battle against Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor late in the first half that resulted in a great combat catch by the latter and a 44-yard touchdown.
What about the drop of an easy interception by cornerback Cameron Sutton late in the third quarter, with the Steelers trailing, 10-6? Sutton could have given the Steelers prime real estate–at worst–and who knows? Maybe the offense would have come to life and actually taken advantage of the gift.
Instead, return man Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt two plays later; New England recovered and set up shop at the Steelers’ 10 before ultimately capitalizing with a Damien Harris touchdown to make it 17-6.
The Steelers managed to close the gap to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter but could get no closer.
The offense could only muster two three and outs in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots ran out the final 6:33 to secure the win.
While the offense deserves a lot of the blame for failing to do anything in the fourth quarter, the defense deserves an equal share for allowing New England to run out the rest of the clock and not giving the offense one final possession.
Would it have been a futile possession? It’s easy to say, “Yes,” but Pittsburgh’s offense was even more pathetic in Week 1 and did virtually nothing for over 69 minutes of game action.
However, unlike this past Sunday, the defense managed to give the ball back to the offense one final time, and, believe it or not, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Co. made the necessary plays to get in range for Chris Boswell to end things from 53 yards out as time expired in the extra period.
The defense certainly did enough to beat the Bengals. Why do I say that? Because the Steelers won the game.
It’s too bad the defense didn’t do enough to beat the Patriots in Week 2.