Google “Trap Game” and you’ll get many definitions. Some are better than others. The best had nothing to do with sports and came from the late, great Mr. Jim Baker, my 8th grade World Studies teacher, who would chide the class:
- This was a ‘gimmie’ and you blew it.
Mr. Baker was talking about blowing assignments that should have been an easy “A.” A trap game is one you “should” win but end up losing.
Mike Tomlin has been unfairly criticized for many things during his tenure, but there’s no arguing that Tomlin teams tend to get tripped up by trap games. On Sunday, against the Dallas Cowboys, the Steelers almost tripped again. But they didn’t because this time they had Minkah Magic on their side….
Half Full or Half Empty? How About Just Half a Glass?
NFL teams rarely play 3 consecutive road games. Winning 3 straight road games is rarer yet. Winning two of the three against the a conference and division heavyweight is more difficult yet. But both of those wins came with a half-full/half-empty element to them.
The Steelers played a phenomenal first half against the Titans, only to cling on to victory thanks to a missed field goal. Against the Ravens, the Steelers played one of their worst first halves of offensive football in the Tomiln era, gave up tons of yards, yet delivered decisive play after decisive play in the 2nd half to win.
- And so it was against the Dallas Cowboys.
On paper, the Steelers should have steamrolled the Cowboys, a team that was reeling even before it found itself needing to start its 4th or 5th string quarterback. It should have been so simple. Yet, it wasn’t:
- James Conner struggled, plodding for 2.4 yards a carry instead of running strong
- Ben Roethlisberger struggled to connect on the deep ball and couldn’t convert 3rd downs
- Garrett Gilbert played more like Dallas’ next Tony Romo than its next Babe Laufenberg
- It was Dallas, and not Pittsburgh that moved the chains and possessed the clock
So instead of dominating Dallas, the Steelers were looking at a 13-0 deficit with 3:50 left to play. Just as they had against Baltimore, and just as they had against Tennessee, the question wasn’t whether the glass was half empty or half full, but rather why the Steelers seemed to be stuck with half a glass.
Steelers Come Alive @ 2 Minute Warning
The key word there is “seemed.” Just after the two minute warning, Ben Roethlisberger tweaked his knee, and almost as if on cue:
- He completed passes to Diontae Johnson, Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool, and Eric Ebron again.
- Then he hit James Washington in the end zone, finally getting the Steelers on the board with 1:10 left.
Dallas got the ball back, and a quick pass from Garrett Gilbert to CeeDee Lamb looked promising until Cam Sutton knocked the ball loose, regaining possession at the Cowboy’s 39. Mason Rudolph came in to complete a few passes, but those amounted to little more than chump change.
- Still, it was enough for Chris Boswell to kick a franchise-record 59 yard field goal.
Instead of heading into half time on the ropes, the Steelers had narrowed the score to a very manageable 13 to 9.
Special Teams Snafus Nearly Sabotage Steelers
Steelers fans with long memories know of the team’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship with special teams coaches. Jon Kolb was a legendary tackle for Chuck Noll, but a nightmare as a special teams coach. George Stewart followed him, and his special teams strike force helped craft the 1989 Steelers Cinderella story.
Bobby April gained cult hero status for his special teams prowess during the 1995 Steelers failed Super Bowl run, while Jay Hayes disastrous special teams foul ups paved the way for the Tom Brady era in the 2001 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.
- Many fans in Steelers Nation have felt Danny Smith was on the wrong side of that divide.
I’d argue that wouldn’t have been fair to Smith, but not one can argue that during 2020, special teams have been an asset for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Until they set foot in Jerry’s World, where:
- Chris Boswell missed his first extra point
- Boswell then missed his next field goal (although a penalty gave him a re-try)
- The Steelers got suckered on a lateral during an 83 yard punt return
- The Cowboys blocked an extra point
- Rico Dowdle transformed a picture perfect 64 yard “mortar kick” into a 64 yard return
The math is pretty simple, the 83 yard punt return set up an easy Dallas field goal, and the two botched extra points took two points off the board for the Steelers. That’s a 5 point swing against Pittsburgh…
Steelers 2nd Half Comeback That Almost Came Up Short
True to form the Steelers fielded a different team in the 2nd half, that featured the following fireworks:
- 75 and 79 yard drives that ended with touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron
- Another 75 yard drive that started at Pittsburgh’s 1 and ended with a field goal
- A 5-play negative 1-yard Cowboys drive at the 2 minute warning
- The game should have ended there. Except it didn’t.
The Steelers got the ball back at the Dallas 24. James Conner ran twice for little effect. On third down Ben Roethlisberger connected with Chase Claypool, but Claypool only got 5 yards, bringing up 4th and 1. On 4th and one James Conner got stoned for a 4 yard loss.
Dallas was not only in it, it had a chance to win it.
Minkah Magic = Difference Maker for Steelers
Steelers fans have seen these situations before and suffered from them all too often – just remember the 2nd half of the 2018 season. But Dallas didn’t close the deal here, for the same reason it failed to put Pittsburgh away at two other points in the game: Minkah Fitzpatrick.
- Minkah recovered the Cowboys fumble late in the first half, setting up the Steelers field goal
- Dowdle’s 64 yard kick return gave Dallas perfect field position, only for Minkah to intercept the ball
And so it was. Dallas got the ball back with 38 seconds left. Gilbert moved the team 58 yards. The prevent defense looked like it was about to prevent the Steelers from winning. Then, on 3rd an 4 from the Pittsburgh 23 with 0:04 left, Gilbert fired at CeeDee Lamb.
- As he did last week, Minkah Fitzpatrick stepped up and batted away the final pass.
Once again, Minkah Magic put the Pittsburgh Steelers over the top.