On the precipice of a pre-Turkey Day fan insurrection, the loyal populace has identified the usual suspects, among them offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, and are poised, ala Madame Defarge, to sentence them to the guillotine. Ligahesky's transgressions involve the record-setting futility of his kick coverage team, surrendering an unprecedented four returns for kickoffs, this amid the Variety Pack of Opponent Touchdown Returns that the Steelers have displayed for the eighth consecutive game. Arians is held responsible for any playcall that doesn't work, complicated by his Marie Antoinette "Let them eat cake," responses to the peasantry of Steeler Nation. Compared to his 3rd & 6 debacle of the 2007 playoffs, Arians electing to go the "Cute Route" and toss the ball to Mewelde Moore on a key 3rd & 2 call, when either Player of the Game Rashard Mendenhall, or the suddenly resurgent Willie Parker would have been a better candidate for a run, served to further enrage the Black & Gold denizens.
The Recurring Nighmare of 2009 was visited upon the Steelers once again at Arrowhead, as the Steelers were slow to gain a two-touchdown advantage despite holding an obscene edge in yardage and time of possession, failed to land a knockout punch with their opponent on the ropes, and weren't up to the task of holding a fourth-quarter lead on the road for the third time this season. All three facets of the Pittsburgh Steelers wore the goat horns this time:
* The Offense: The Mike Wallace Fumble, The Heath Miller Clang, the Ben Roethlisberger Red Zone pick, the failure to register the winning points despite three opportunities to do so, and the offensive line surrendering three sacks in the final three minutes of regulation, after not having given up any (thanks to No. 7's trademark elusiveness) up to that point, fueled the angst of the fandom. Late game sacks were instrumental in both of the September road losses as well.
* The Defense: After having not given up a touchdown over the previous 12 quarters, the defense allowed the Chefs to play longball, and pierce the end zone twice in the 2nd half. Staked to a 7-point lead, with Matt Cassel and crew backed up to their own 10-yard line, their inability to stop on 3rd & 9 was the key defensive non-play of the game. The Steelers defense surrendered 174 of 282 total yards after scoring their go-ahead touchdown with 8:35 remaining in the 4th quarter.
* The Special Teams: It happened again; ‘nuff said. In the end, Head Coach Mike Tomlin took full responsibility for the loss, whatever that means.
Consider the Steelers' 4th quarter performance in their four losses to date. Offensively, they've had 11 4th quarter and overtime possessions. They've accrued a trio of three & outs, punted on five other occasions, missed a pair of field goals, and against the Chefs, scored a go-ahead touchdown. Segue to the defensive side of the ball, this "legendary" defense being called on 10 times to protect respective leads of seven, 11 & seven points, and once to manage a tie score. The defense has permitted four touchdowns (one a game-winner), four field goals (two game-winners), and against Kansas City, forced a pair of punts.
The day of the Cakewalk That Wasn't yields both a rationale for giving thanks, and cause for extreme displeasure. Despite the loss, comparable to the '06 and '07 losses, respectively, to the 2-win Raiders and Jets, the Steelers remain in the same position to which they found themselves pre-game in the AFC North, as both the Bengals and the Ravens lost games that were within their grasp. Will these Steelers respond as did the '05 Black & Gold edition after losing their 3rd straight game at this time of year? Will they win in Baltimore this weekend, actually beat the two supposed tomato cans following, win a Heinz Field Holiday Doubleheader, and then close the regular season with a win in the friendly environs of South Florida? Or, will this team opt for the pattern of the '98 Steelers following the Thanksgiving Day "I Called Tails" disaster, the onset of a 5-game season-ending tailspin?
Will this team, from the home of Night of the Living Dead, continue their zombie-like trek on the path of missing the playoffs the season after winning a Super Bowl, a maddening tradition indigenous to Western Pennsylvania? Should this downward spiral continue, the Steelers for the 3rd straight time, would not qualify for the tournament after having been crowned world champion. No other team has experienced this phenomenon more than once. On the bright side, one has to actually win Super Bowls to have this problem, hence disqualifying our Ohio cousins.
For more by Dave Villiotti, check out We're From the Town with the Great Football Team: A Pittsburgh Steelers Manifestoas well as We Cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers: The ‘70s, available at both www.amazon.com and www.lulu.com