My thoughts, for what they're worth ...

Had the Steelers been 4-3 going into Sunday - as they probably should have been had they not hamstrung themselves with even half of the self-inflicted wounds over the first seven games of the season - this Denver game would have been merely a tough loss against a quality opponent …

… a valiant effort but a frustrating loss in which the team couldn't overcome early mistakes. The type of tough loss around which a .500 club might rally itself back into championship form down the season stretch. As it is, though, the loss almost certainly sounded the death knell of the 2006 campaign … a reality that I, for one, have not yet fully embraced.

- How can the team do so many things so well and keep coming out on the losing end? How can Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton play as well as they ever have in their Pro Bowl careers, and yet the front seven still not get adequate pass rush when it matters most? How can Santonio Holmes progress so nicely as a rookie receiver, and yet still make himself the goat time and again?

- Look how well Ben Roethlisberger is spreading the ball around. Eight receivers caught passes, with seven of them having reeled in at least three. On a day in which Roethlisberger completed 38 balls for 433 yards, no receiver caught more than Hines Ward's seven for 127 yards. That's the type of offensive command and pass distribution that you like to see out of one of the league's best quarterbacks; now if only he could stop distributing it to the other team.

- To be fair, only one of Roethlisberger's three interceptions really meant anything different than an incompletion would have. The second pick came at the right time to try a tough deep ball—on third-and-long outside of field goal range—and it's almost expected that a Hail Mary will find the hands of some lucky recipient of defensive stat-padding. That first pick, though… that one really hurt.

- That's three weeks, three dropped catchable balls by Heath Miller. No sir, I don't like it.

- I dare anyone to argue that Ward doesn't care about winning now that he's been paid and wears a championship ring. It didn't take much fluency in non-verbal communication—and my wife can assure you that I have none—to read a level of disappointment nearing anguish on the Super Bowl MVP's face after his bid to will the team to victory came up just short after the most microcosmic fumble I expect to ever see.

- I like Max Starks, but he's going to have to play better than he has the last couple of games if he wants that contract extension next off-season.

- I don't know whether Willie Parker will ever be a great running back, but there's little doubt that he desperately wants to be one and will put in the work to become so. In the meanwhile, he may have to settle for being just a pretty damn good back. Some fans have been waiting for Parker to post a good performance against a good run defense, and he did exactly that against Denver as both a runner and a receiver.

- After two stellar performances against Atlanta and Oakland, Ike Taylor turned in probably his worst performance since seizing a starting opportunity in 2005. Javon Walker is a fine receiver, but I'm not sure what about him gave Taylor more trouble than he ever had with the likes of Chad Johnson or Marvin Harrison.

- It seemed that the corners got themselves turned away from the play too often. In the past, Taylor and Deshea Townsend have usually been able to turn their heads at the last second and at least put a hand up to obstruct the receiver's view of the incoming ball. Against Denver, though, they flailed wildly and settled for attempts to swat the ball away after the catch had been made.

- Let's not take away from the precision with which the oft-erratic Jake Plummer dropped in those three touchdown passes, either. Those were some well-thrown balls and a couple of terrific catches by the receivers.

- Let's not give Townsend a free pass, either. Between his holding penalty that extended Denver's first drive, Rod Smith's subsequent touchdown catch, and the whiff on Walker's long touchdown run, that was not one of Townsend's better showings.

- Yeah, that was just about the gentlest "unnecessary roughness" I've ever seen called called against Anthony Smith in punt coverage in the fourth quarter. What, was the guy he kind of ran into a quarterback, or something? The "victim" turned to look at Smith after the "contact" in the way that I might turn to look at someone apologizing for bumping my shopping cart at the grocery store.

- Najeh Davenport looks okay as a third-down replacement for Verron Haynes.

- Okay, that's about as much as I can force myself to think about that game. The shame of it is that it was mostly a pretty good game, pretty well played by both sides but for a handful of gaffes by Pittsburgh. I have to go lie down, now… maybe find some national article to read about how the Steelers clearly lost because Roethlisberger threw more than 30 passes.


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