DALLAS -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium:
What it means: This one had to hurt. The Steelers could’ve moved to within a game of the first-place Baltimore Ravens with a victory. Instead, they’re bringing up the rear in the race for a wild-card spot. At 7-7, Pittsburgh is now two games behind Indianapolis and one behind fellow AFC North rival Cincinnati. That’s not a good place to be with two games left in the season.
The Good: As talented as tight end Heath Miller is, the Steelers aren’t going to reach the playoffs with him as their primary receiver. He caught five passes for 74 yards in the first half while only one wideout -- Antonio Brown -- produced a reception. This game turned when the Steelers found a way to get their big-play receivers involved. Mike Wallace had a huge 60-yard catch in the third quarter to set up a touchdown. Jericho Cotchery had a key 21-yard reception that led to a seven-yard grab by Brown that gave the Steelers a 24-17 lead. These efforts didn’t just energize the Steelers, they reinforced the notion that big plays are the only way this team is going to generate offense.
The Bad: Special teams killed Pittsburgh on Sunday. First, Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler stripped Antonio Brown on a potential, game-breaking punt return midway through the fourth quarter. Dallas tight end John Phillips recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line and DeMarco Murray tied the game at 24 on a 3-yard touchdown run seven plays later. If Brown had held onto that ball, the Steelers could’ve clinched the game. Pittsburgh also avoided another near disaster when Cowboys returner Dwayne Harris produced a 39-yard return with 47 seconds remaining. That return gave Dallas a shot at winning the game in regulation but the Steelers forced the Cowboys to punt.
The Ugly: No question about this one. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an ill-fated pass on the second play of overtime and Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr snared it on a diving interception. Carr’s 36-yard return set up the game-winning, 21-yard field goal by Dan Bailey. For all of Big Ben’s big plays on this evening, that was the mistake he couldn’t afford to make.
The Usual: The Steelers have struggled to run the ball all season. Nothing changed on Sunday. Aside from a 22-yard gain by Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh gained just 47 yards on 16 carries.