The 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers: Four Games That Changed Their Season
Everything was looking good for the Pittsburgh Steelers just over halfway through the NFL season. They were 7-2-1 and on top of the AFC North heading into a Week 12 matchup with the Denver Broncos. But suddenly things started to take a turn for Pittsburgh and they would go on to lose four of their last six games, and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013 as the Baltimore Ravens rode a hot Lamar Jackson at quarterback and snatched the division away from them. But the interesting thing about those four losses down the stretch was the fact the Steelers had a chance to win each and every one of them. In fact, they should have won at least three of the four games and they were all a part of their three-game losing streak that sent them spiraling back down to earth. So today, we take a look back at the four games that changed the Pittsburgh Steelers season down the stretch that caused them to miss the NFL Playoffs this year.
Week 12: @ Denver Broncos
Riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak, the Steelers headed to Denver where Ben Roethlisberger's struggles had been well-documented. Coming into the game, Roethlisberger was 2-4 in his lifetime when playing at Mile High Stadium and the Broncos came into this game with a little momentum following a big win over the Chargers on the road the week before. Out of the gates, Pittsburgh looked sluggish and on their first two possession Chris Boswell missed a field goal and tight end Xavier Grimble fumbled the ball at the goal line which resulted in a turnover. Right there the Steelers lost 10 potential points which would loom large later on. But in the moment, it did not seem too big as a field goal and touchdown on their next two drives sent the game into halftime tied at 10. Backed up at their own three yard line on their first possession, Ben Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster at about the 30 yard line and Smith-Schuster did the rest for a 97-yard touchdown to put the Steelers up 17-10. The lead was short-lived as a Roethlisberger interception on the next drive led to a game-tying touchdown two plays later for the Broncos.
Yet again, it would be a turnover by the Steelers that led to more points for Denver when unning back James Connor caught a pass in the backfield and ran 23 yards to the Denver 23 yard line before fumbling the ball. It was recovered by Darian Stewart and the Broncos marched down the field for a touchdown to take a 24-17 lead. After punts by both teams, it was Roethlisberger's last chance to tie things up for the Steelers. He marched the offense down near the goal line and on third and goal from the two-yard line he made a poor pass intended for Antonio Brown that was picked off to seal Pittsburgh's fate. The Steelers blew every chance they had in this one to take control of the game and their four turnovers led to 14 points for Denver. Suddenly those 10 points they missed out on in the first half looked all the more crucial. But it was only one loss and Pittsburgh was heading home at 7-3-1.
Broncos 24, Steelers 17
Week 13: vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Let us pick this game up in the second half because that is where things truly got interesting. Following a dominant first half, the Steelers led the Chargers by 16 points heading into the final 30 minutes of football. Pittsburgh was set to receive the ball in the second half and five minutes later they punted in back to Philip Rivers and the Chargers. For most of the first half, Los Angeles was unable to get anything working for them on offense, but it was a different story coming out of the break. Rivers led an eight minute touchdown drive that was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen and a two-point conversion that was successfully completed to Antonio Gates. Just like that the Chargers trailed 23-15 in the late stages of the third quarter. Five plays later and the Steelers were punting the ball back to LA for the second time in the half. But this time Desmond King took the punt 73 yards for the touchdown and then Philip Rivers completed the two-point conversion to Keenan Allen which tied the game up at 23. Pittsburgh was about to get the ball back, but it was clear that the momentum had shifted and the Steelers were in trouble.
For a third time in the half, Pittsburgh was forced to punt and the Chargers responded with another touchdown drive which was capped off by an 18-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Jackson to put LA in front by seven. But Ben Roethlisberger was not going to go quietly and finally the offense put together a scoring drive to tie the game on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels. However the defense that had held the Chargers to seven points in the first half and was porous in the second half had to make a stop. Rivers picked apart the defense for a fourth time in the half and put the Chargers in field goal position with three seconds left. The kick by Mike Badgley was wide left, but Bud Dupree jumped offsides so it was kicked again. This time the kick was blocked, but Artie Burns clearly jumped offsides to move the ball up another five yards. Finally, the 29-yard kick by Badgley went through the uprights and even though Burns jumped offsides again, the Chargers declined the penalty and sent Pittsburgh to their second straight loss. The Steelers were now 7-4-1 and still in control of the AFC North with a matchup against the lowly Raiders next week.
Chargers 33, Steelers 30
Week 14: @ Oakland Raiders
In the spirit of playing down to a far more inferior opponent, the Steelers quickly gave up an opening drive touchdown to Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders to trail 7-0 in the early goings of this one. But Pittsburgh would bounce back with two touchdown drives, including one in the two-minute drill, to head into halftime with a 14-10 lead. But a sack during that final drive of the half caused Ben Roethlisberger to suffer a rib injury and while he hung in there for the remainder of the drive, he would miss part of the second half. It is also important to note that Chris Boswell missed another field goal earlier in the first half which would have sent the Steelers into the locker room with a seven point lead. Due to the rib injury mentioned earlier, Roethlisberger was not playing in the second half and Josh Dobbs was the new quarterback under center for Pittsburgh. With Dobbs at quarterback, the Steelers stalled on offense in all four of his drives before Roelisberger came back out to play. Strangely enough while the veteran quarterback was ready to go, his head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, "He probably could've come in a series or so sooner, but we were in the rhythm and flow of the game. He was ready to go when he got back out there." The offense was never in a rhythm with Dobbs at quarterback and then later on Tomlin blamed the X-ray machine on the sideline for the late return.
Nevertheless, Roethlisberger reentered the game with the Steelers trailing 17-14 and just 5:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Two minutes later, Pittsburgh was back in front by four after Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for the one-yard touchdown pass. Yet again the defense for the Steelers fell apart and in just over two and a half minutes, Derek Carr marched down the field and hit Derek Carrier for a six-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left to put Oakland in front by three. Pittsburgh needed some sort of miracle and with 14 seconds left it seemed like they had gotten it. Roethlisberger completed a five-yard pass to James Washington and the ball was lateraled to Smith-Schuster who took it up the sideline for 43 more yards to the Oakland 22-yard line. With five seconds left, Chris Boswell had a chance to tie it up on the 40-yard field goal attempt, but he slipped as he ran up to the ball and the game was over. Pittsburgh dropped their third straight game, and Baltimore had won their third straight game to pull within a half game of the division. Perhaps if Tomlin inserted Roethlisberger into the game sooner or Boswell does not miss two kicks, this game turns out different.
Raiders 24, Steelers 21
Week 16: @ New Orleans Saints
Following a huge win at home against the New England Patriots, the Steelers still remained in control of the division and their own playoff destiny. But they faced a tough task in Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Pittsburgh needed to win considering the Ravens beat the Chargers a day earlier. Having won five of their last six games since Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, Baltimore would take control of the AFC North heading into Week 17 if the Steelers lost. This was your typical back and forth game between two teams looking to prove something. For the Saints, it was taking the top seed in the NFC and for the Steelers it was making sure they remained atop the division. But the game-changing moment came down the stretch in this one when Pittsburgh had the ball with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Leading 28-24 and faced with a fourth and five situation at their own 42-yard line, the Steelers elected to go for a fake punt. Full back Roosevelt Nix took the snap and was brought down about a yard short from the first down marker which gave the ball back to the high-powered Saints offense with a short field. As you could guess, Drew Brees wasted no time methodically picking apart the Steelers on defense before finding Michael Thomas for a two-yard touchdown pass that gave the Saints a 31-28 edge.
Tasked with getting the team into field goal range to tie it or into the end zone for the win, Ben Roethlisberger came back out with 1:25 left in the game. After getting to fourth and 15, he found Antonio Brown on the sideline for a great 19-yard completion that gave Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a pass at the New Orleans 34-yard line and as he was being twisted to the ground the ball popped loose. It was recovered by the Saints and just like that the Steelers lost the game and control of their playoff destiny. In order to get in the playoffs, they would need to win the AFC North which meant the Ravens had to lose to the Browns and they would have to beat the Bengals in Week 17.
Saints 31, Steelers 28
But this would not happen in Week 17 as Pittsburgh would beat Cincinnati by a final of 16-13, but an interception by Baker Mayfield on the final drive of the game gave the Ravens a close 26-24 victory over the Browns and all but end the playoff hopes of the Steelers. The only other way they could get in was with a tie in the game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans which ultimately ended with a 33-17 victory by the Colts. After looking playoff bound after 11 weeks, Pittsburgh fell apart down the stretch with a mixture of blown leads, bad defense and turnovers. They lost four of their final six games down the stretch but had chances that were clear as day in each and every one of them. Their inability to close these games or finish the comeback in them doomed their playoff chances and now heading into the offseason the team has a lot to figure out about how they will move forward.
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