NFL Nation: Greg Warren
O-line dealing with more injuries: How healthy the offensive line is moving forward will be an issue considering four players from that unit left the game with injuries. Coach Mike Tomlin provided the minimum on those injuries (ankle, knee, etc.), and it looked like starting center Fernando Velasco might have been the only one to suffer a potentially serious injury. Velasco hurt his right ankle, and he left M&T Bank Stadium in a walking boot and crutches. Injuries to Kelvin Beachum (knee) and Mike Adams (ankle) forced the Steelers to use three players at left tackle, and DeCastro hurt his foot. Defensive end Brett Keisel left early in the first quarter after aggravating a foot injury that had sidelined him the previous two games.
They like Ike: Torrey Smith ended up 7 yards shy of becoming the third consecutive wide receiver with at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown while getting covered primarily by cornerback Ike Taylor. And Smith drew a 26-yard pass interference penalty on Taylor on a third-and-7 play in the second quarter. The Ravens were 6-of-8 on third-down conversions in the first half, and Taylor's penalty led to one of five Justin Tucker field goals in the two-point game. Smith's 54-yard catch set up the Ravens' only touchdown. It also went down as the 10th play of at least 50 yards that the Steelers have given up this season.
Not so special: The Steelers' special teams gaffes were costly -- and will likely hit Tomlin's wallet after he almost wandered onto the field during Jacoby Jones' 73-yard kickoff return while watching it on a scoreboard Jumbotron. I think Tomlin made an honest mistake and that there was no intent by the seventh-year coach to slow down Jones, who flashed through a huge opening on the left side on the way to the longest play of the game. What hurt the Steelers more than Jones' return was the botched field goal attempt in the second quarter. Kicker Shaun Suisham started his approach too early, and he never had a chance to attempt a 50-yard field goal. "We were doing it on a slow cadence to slow their pass rush," Tomlin said. "I don’t think Shaun heard the cadence." The Ravens took advantage of the short field after Suisham, who ended up with the ball, was tackled for a 12-yard loss, and they kicked a field goal. "I don’t think he did anything to beat himself up [over]," long snapper Greg Warren said of Suisham.
"A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch," Roethlisberger said. "Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough."
It's easy to point the finger at Roethlisberger. He threw two interceptions late in games (in overtime in Dallas and with 14 seconds left against the Bengals) that led to losses the past two weeks. Roethlisberger did the right thing as a leader to take the blame. But it would be wrong for everyone to do the same.
Here's a quick list of who should share in the Steel City blame game ...
The defense. Yes, the NFL's top-ranked defense played a part in this disappointing season. For the second straight season, the Steelers didn't force enough turnovers. Pittsburgh took the ball away 16 times this season, which meant Roethlisberger had to continually drive the length of the field to score points. Only the Eagles, Colts and Chiefs forced fewer turnovers this season.
Offensive line. This banged-up group allowed Roethlisberger to get banged up again. Its failure to block the Chiefs led to Roethlisberger getting sandwiched on Nov. 12, when he injured his rib and shoulder. He was never the same after that, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions in three games since coming back. Left tackle Max Starks has given up 36 quarterback hurries, eighth-most in the league.
Mike Wallace. His drops continually let down Roethlisberger. He is only credited with six by ESPN Stats & Information, but it seemed like a lot more. To Roethlisberger's credit, he never lost confidence in Wallace.
Greg Warren. For those who don't know, Warren is the usually solid long snapper. But Warren's poor snap led to the 24-yard field goal miss in last Sunday's three-point loss to the Bengals. You remember Roethlisberger's interception because it happened at a crucial time, but Warren's mistake was just as big in the Steelers losing an elimination game.
All of the running backs. Roethlisberger had to carry the offense because he didn't get any help from his supporting cast. It didn't matter who the Steelers handed the ball off to -- Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey -- Pittsburgh couldn't run the ball consistently, or at the very least, force defenses to respect the ground game. The Steelers are 26th in rushing yards per game (96.4) and per carry (3.8). Here's the most disturbing stat: the Steelers had as many fumbles (eight) as 20-yard runs.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has seen more curveballs in Pittsburgh than your typical Pirates slugger.
This season, Reed has had a change of long-snappers, following a knee injury to teammate Greg Warren.
|AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar|
|While his holders have rotated, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has been a constant.|
Add the fact that the field conditions in Heinz Field are getting uglier by the day and Pittsburgh's offense has sputtered, and it's amazing that Reed's kicking remains the one constant.
The seven-year veteran is quietly having the best season of his career for the 7-3 Steelers. In his most recent outing, Reed kicked through snowy conditions and made three clutch field goals during an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He is 16-of-17 on field goals this year, and his percentage (94.1) is fourth in the NFL among kickers with at least 14 attempts.
Most fans simply watch Reed kick on game day but fail to understand the work needed to seamlessly make the transition to a new long-snapper (rookie Jared Retkofsky) and three different holders in one year.
"When you talk about adversity for a kicker," Reed said, "it doesn't get much more adverse than this."
Reed is accustomed to curveballs. He got first got a taste of the unpredictability that is the NFL during his rookie year in 2002.
Following a solid college career at the University of North Carolina, Reed went undrafted and was unable to land on an NFL roster. So the Charlotte native went back to the Tar Heel state to work on a dairy farm cleaning debris.
"Everyone thinks I was a farmer, which is not true," Reed said, smiling. "I was just working on a farm for a friend who was actually a true farmer."
Reed then took the winding path to Pittsburgh.
An injury to former Steelers kicker Todd Peterson earned Reed a tryout for the Steelers in November 2002. Pittsburgh was the seventh team Reed tried out for that year.
It was a typical winter mosh pit at Heinz Field when Reed joined three other kickers to try out. Through sleet and approximately 30-degree weather, Reed had perhaps his worst kicking display before an NFL team.
"It was cool to get a tryout but you're thinking, 'Man, why couldn't it be a different day?'" Reed said. "We all kicked about equally. ...We all missed some that we should have made and were slipping all over the place."
Reed admits that none of the kickers were impressive enough to earn the job, but he got the nod that day. Reed said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher still jokes with him occasionally, saying he has no idea why he chose the rookie kicker six years ago.
But Cowher's intuition is still paying dividends. Reed has a career 83-percent success rate on field goals, despite kicking half his games at home on arguably the toughest surface in the NFL. The past two years Reed has made 39 of 42 field-goal attempts (92.8 percent) for Pittsburgh.
Some kickers can be outcasts in their locker rooms, but Reed is not one of them. When he arrived six years ago, teammates and coaches didn't know his name. Now he's a fan favorite. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often praises Reed, saying earlier this year that he has "the utmost confidence in him." Reed also was chosen to be a captain this year by his peers.
Without a doubt, it has been a long road for the Steelers' kicker who, after college, was working on the farm for $12 per hour.
But in a blue-collar town like Pittsburgh, Reed is an ideal fit.
"It would be great to be a first-round pick ... but I kind of like it better when you have to earn what you got," Reed said. "Coach Cowher's saying was 'It's hard to get there, but it's harder to stay.' If that's not reality, then I don't know what is."
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Long-snapping issues hurt Pittsburgh in last week's loss to the New York Giants. Greg Warren suffered a torn ACL and linebacker James Harrison attempted to fill in but delivered a high snap that resulted in a safety.
Retkofsky was signed as a free agent last week and had ample time to get acclimated. But it's difficult to predict how any new player will respond to a hostile environment. His first snap on a punt was fine in the first quarter.
If this is the last time I mention Retkosky's name, Steelers fans probably will be satisfied with his first game.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- After the Pittsburgh Steelers gave up 12 unanswered points and blew a fourth-quarter lead to the reigning Super Bowl champions Sunday, they came to the realization that the New York Giants are not only better than them, but they're also better than everyone else.
"They are Super Bowl champions for a reason," was the general quote uttered at least a half-dozen times Sunday night.
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Stopping (and sacking) Big Ben seems to be the key to beating the Steelers.|
The Giants (6-1) are the cream of the crop at the midpoint of the season. They earned that honor by doing what championship-caliber teams do: hang around on the road, then kick it into another gear in crunch time.
The Steelers (5-2) showed they are not far behind, but they still have a ways to go in terms of executing against the NFL's best for four quarters.
Here are some other observations in the wake of Pittsburgh's loss:
Pressure busts pipes (and Big Ben)
At the midpoint of the season, the book is out on beating the Steelers: beat up "Big Ben" and you have a great chance to win.
Coming off a 38-10 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals in which Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sacked, the Steelers gave up five sacks and several more shots on their quarterback against the Giants on Sunday.
As a result, Roethlisberger was never able to find a comfort zone. He completed only 13-of-29 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and a season-high four interceptions. It was the first multi-interception game of the season for the Steelers' quarterback, who also bore some of the responsibility for the sacks after holding the ball too long.
"It's disappointing offensively from top to bottom and it starts with me," Roethlisberger admitted. "We're just not getting it done ... We saw some things today that we didn't see on film."