Steelers give away game, season

OAKLAND, Calif. – Earlier in the week, linebacker Joey Porter said the rest of the season wouldn't be about whatever opponent the team faced, it would be about the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The loss Sunday to Oakland was indeed all about the Steelers. It was about just how far the Steelers have fallen from last season's Super Bowl championship to their current perch among the dregs of the NFL.

The Steelers have done way too much talking this season, acting as if being the defending champions gives them some kind of high ground when it comes to dealing with officials, opponents or anybody else.

Case and point was the Steelers' mental meltdown to start the second half of their 20-13 loss to Oakland.

A defense that was dominating the game lost its composure. After stopping Justin Fargas for a three-yard gain on Oakland's opening play of the second half, linebacker Larry Foote was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. The infraction? Yacking at Fargas long after the play ended.

Apparently not content with handing the Raiders only 15 yards, the Steelers picked up another unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty following the next play. Referee Tony Corrente's microphone was inoperable when the penalty was called, so we can only assume that somebody on the Steelers' defense was continuing to complain about the previous penalty. Then again, the way things looked, it was the entire defense complaining about the penalty.

The Steelers insisted after the game that the officials had misunderstood their yells on the second call. In fact, they had been calling each other out instead of the officials – as if that's any better.

Moments later, Corrente called the Pittsburgh defense into a huddle to give them a talking to – apparently telling them what he was no longer going to put up with.

Those two penalties were costly as they gave the Raiders 30 yards and moved them into field-goal range. Oakland's offense gained only 11 yards on the possession, but was able to turn them into three points, thanks to the utter stupidity of the Steelers.

And that has been a recurring theme this year for the Steelers, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in particular. Roethlisberger has thrown 14 interceptions.

"It starts with me," Roethlisberger said. "I've got to start playing better. Right now, I'm letting the whole team down. A lot of times it seems like just one guy is making mistakes. A lot of times, that guy has been me. I've got to limit my mistakes."

Roethlisberger has not been alone. The Steelers turned the ball over way too much and at misopportune times. They take bad penalties. They make what can only be classified as stupid mistakes.

Everything the Steelers are doing, they didn't do last season. They didn't take bad penalties. They made big plays when they needed them. They didn't turn the ball over.

It all goes to show that the NFL is very different from year to year.

Perhaps too many of these Steelers – from the players to the coaching staff – spent the offseason reading their press clippings, believing they truly were a great football team.

Instead, they are a team that looks like it will be picking very high in next year's draft.

© Roethlisberger wanted more responsibility this season and he's gotten it. Thus far, the third-year quarterback doesn't appear ready to handle that kind of load.

He looked a lot more like Tommy Maddox Sunday than a quarterback who won a Super Bowl last season.

© Another week, another bad performance by the offensive line and right tackle Max Starks in particular.

But here's betting you won't hear Starks called out for his poor play by too many TV types in Pittsburgh. Starks is always quick with a quote and the TV types love to talk to him because he's so well spoken.

Starks looked lost, however, trying to block Derrick Burgess Sunday.

I don't know that the Chris Kemoeatu experiment at right guard is going to last all that long either. The big fella didn't exactly dominate in the run game and his pass blocking looked pretty shoddy to say the least.

But Kendall Simmons was one of just three Steelers who dressed and did not play Sunday - Rodney Bailey and Charlie Batch were the other two – so maybe head coach Bill Cowher is preparing for the future.

© The play-calling Sunday by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was questionable at times to say the least.

We saw way too much of the four and five-wide receiver packages when the team was in short yardage situations. That tells me the Steelers don't have any faith in their ability to run the ball and get a yard or two when needed.

Maybe Duce Staley will be the answer. Staley will be active from here on out with Verron Haynes being done for the season with a left leg injury.

© When it's thought that Staley might be a savior, the team's in trouble.

© Where was Cowher's spit and fire when the defense was getting penalized for unsportsmanlike penalties on back-to-back plays?

Maybe the head coach is resigned to the fact that this is just not a good football team.

© Oakland averaged 0.9 yards per pass play, 2.9 yards per rushing play and 2.0 yards per play overall and won.

After 14 years of covering the NFL, I have officially seen it all.

At least in 2002 when Tommy Maddox single-handedly handed Houston a win with a performance like the one Roethlisberger had Sunday, the Texans' defense stopped the Steelers on occasion.

The only thing stopping the Steelers Sunday was the Steelers.

© Shane Lechler was Oakland's most valuable player in this game. The Raiders' punter continually put the Steelers deep in their own territory to start drives, forcing them into bad situations.

© With this team floundering so badly, you can forget those Cowher retirement rumors. Cowher is now going to have to come back in 2007 to prove that he can turn this thing around after a 6-10 or 7-9 season.

Then again, at this point, 7-9 would be an achievement in itself with this squad.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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