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Sunday, October 27, 2013
Special teams a black hole for Steelers

By Scott Brown

OAKLAND -- Shaun Suisham hit the mark on at least one thing before embarking on what had to be the longest plane ride of his life: his culpability in the Pittsburgh Steelers' third consecutive loss in Oakland.

“Look it’s no secret, the impact my missed field goals had on the game,” Suisham said after the Steelers' 21-18 loss. “I should have been better today and we lost because of it.”

The cruel irony for Suisham: the native Canadian is a huge hockey fans and his uncharacteristic misses gave the Steelers a dubious hat trick as they lurch toward the halfway point of the season,

The offense and defense had each lost games earlier this season. Special teams joined those units Sunday in a game that the Raiders seized control of early and then tried to give back to the Steelers in every way imaginable.

Oakland ultimately did not cough up the game because the Steelers’ special teams provided the Raiders with just enough cushion to move to 3-4 this season in spite of themselves.

Both of Suisham’s missed came inside of 35 yards. Zoltan Mesko bobbled a snap that resulted in a partially blocked punt and led to the second of Oakland’s three touchdowns. Suisham's onside kick at the end of the game bounced right to Rashad Jennings, who earlier had partially blocked the Mesko punt.

The sequence that best summed up the Steelers’ dismal special-teams play came near the end of the first half.

Mesko boomed a 30-yard punt that put Oakland in position to add to its 18-point lead. A Cortez Allen interception gave the ball right back to the Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger drove to the Raiders’ 16-yard line.

But Suisham pushed a 34-yard field goal attempt just right when the Steelers needed points in the worst way.

The Steelers couldn't even claim to be lucky rather than good Sunday on special teams.

Far from it, in fact.

A Mesko punt appeared to bounce off Jacoby Ford in the second quarter as the the Raiders wide receiver was falling backward while trying to avoid fielding the ball. Shamarko Thomas came up with the loose ball, and his fumble recovery would have given the Steelers the ball at the Raiders’ 28-yard line.

Officials, however, ruled that the ball glanced off Antwon Blake's finger before it touched Ford and whistled the play dead.

Coach Mike Tomlin challenged the call but it was upheld.

The call, right or not, would have been a moot point had Suisham played anywhere close to the kicker who entered the game 14 of 14 on field goal attempts and made a 47-yarder before his two misses.

“I told him to keep his head up,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “He’s been leading us all year and don’t hang his head now. We’ve got to continue to stand by his back because we know in this league everything is not always going to be perfect.”

The Steelers didn't need their special teams to be perfect on Sunday. An average showing by those units probably would have led to the Steelers returning to Pittsburgh with a 3-4 record.

Instead the Steelers are 2-5 with a trip to New England next on the schedule. And the one thing we've learned about this team two months into the season is that it sure can find ways to lose a game.