NFL Nation: Shaun Suisham

PITTSBURGH -- A play that went largely unnoticed in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 42-21 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday is a big reason why I think running back Le'Veon Bell has emerged as a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.

It came on a first down with a little less than three minutes left in the first half.

Bell took a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry was in perfect position to drop him in the backfield. But Bell spun away from Gilberry, leaving him clutching for air and turning what should have been a loss into a 9-yard run.

Why was the run so significant?

The Steelers' defense had started leaking some serious oil after a strong first quarter. The Bengals put together a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the second quarter and they took a 14-7 lead after their second score.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLe'Veon Bell has 1,231 rushing yards this season, but also has come up with key plays at key moments for the Steelers.
Markus Wheaton brought the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and was dropped at the Steelers' 14-yard line. Had Gilberry thrown Bell for a loss on the next play the Steelers might have gotten conservative and gone three-and-out -- leaving Cincinnati enough time to get its offense back on the field for one more drive before halftime.

The Steelers instead built on Bell's run and drove inside the Bengals' 5-yard line before settling for a Shaun Suisham field goal before the half.

A 14-10 halftime deficit could have easily been 17-7 or even 21-7 had the Steelers given the Bengals the ball right back late in the second quarter.

Bell's run did not allow that to happen and the Steelers later erupted for 25 fourth-quarter points to blow past the Bengals in a game they had to win.

That wasn't the first time that Bell turned in the kind of play on which games turn.

The Steelers were trailing the Houston Texans by 10 points late in the second quarter a week after getting embarrassed in Cleveland. Their fans, none too happy with the Steelers' 3-3 record and a slow start against the Texans, let them hear about it.

Then Bell turned a reception on a short crossing route into a 28-yard gain. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant on the next play and the Steelers added two more touchdowns after the two-minute warning.

That outburst propelled them to a 30-23 win and launched a three-game winning streak that included victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers' best stretch of the season might not have happened without Bell's catch-and-run late in the first half against the Texans.

Plays such as that and the run Bell made late in the first half against the Bengals are the ones that build MVP arguments every bit as much as numbers such as 1,231 rushing yards in 13 games and 71 receptions for 693 yards.

And testimonials such as that one that center Maurkice Pouncey offered after Bell piled up 235 all-purpose yards in Cincinnati.

"I keep telling you guys all the time as an offensive line you can really appreciate a running back like that," Pouncey said. "He sets up the blocks good. Some plays you can't hit it as fast as others. He gets the gist of that. He has great vision. He cuts on you real quick and makes guys look stupid. He makes it easy. Trust me."

No arguments here.

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
11:00
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PITTSBURGH -- A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

The Steelers are primed for a letdown when they take a three-game winning streak into MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

The New York Jets have lost eight consecutive games, and their season appears to have reached the point of no return. But special teams could help the Jets spring one of the upsets of the season if the Steelers are as lacking in that phase of the game as they were in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Jacoby Jones after yielding a 25-punt return to Jones earlier in the game. Jones went untouched after Shaun Suisham came within a yard of booting the kickoff out of the end zone.

The three Ravens touchdowns were set up by two special-teams breakdowns and a lost fumble. Brad Wing, who has been inconsistent in his first NFL season, didn't help the coverage team with the low punt that Jones returned 25 yards in the first quarter.

Wing netted just 36.5 yards on six punts, and the Steelers need the Aussie to be better starting Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Their more immediate concern in the return game is on kickoffs.

Percy Harvin, whom the Jets traded for late last month, is a dynamic kickoff returner. The versatile wide receiver returned a kickoff 65 yards in a 24-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

If the Steelers play down to the Jets' level in the 1 p.m. ET game, a play on special teams could make the difference.
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room after a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field.
  • Timmons
    Linebacker Lawrence Timmons starred, registering a game-high 12 tackles as well as a sack. The eighth-year veteran also turned into an Internet sensation as he was leading one of the Steelers' better defensive efforts of the season. Timmons vomited several times during the game -- video of it quickly made its way to the internet -- though he said he wasn't sick afterward. Timmons said his stomach problems first started after Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick inadvertently kicked him in the stomach. He later vomited after over-hydrating to replace the fluids he had lost after Fitzpatrick kicked him. "Just a little bloated," Timmons said, "but I'm good now."
  • The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points with three minutes left in the second quarter to turn a 13-point deficit into an 11-point halftime lead. Coach Mike Tomlin said the play that led to that barrage of points happened when the Steelers, down 13-0, were facing third-and-10 from their own 14-yard line. Le'Veon Bell caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 43-yard catch and run. The Steelers' longest play of the season allowed them to flip the field and get on the scoreboard after a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. "They were in man-to-man. He won versus a linebacker," Tomlin said of Bell's 43-yard catch. "I think that provided the type of emotion that the group needed."
  • A short week won't help right tackle Marcus Gilbert as he tries to come back from a concussion. Gilbert left the second quarter and did not return. The fourth-year veteran will have to pass a battery of tests before he is cleared to play Sunday against the visiting Indianapolis Colts. Gilbert sustained the only injury of note against the Texans, Tomlin said. Mike Adams replaced Gilbert and played his first extended snaps of the season. The Steelers almost had to replace their starting left tackle, too, during the game. Kelvin Beachum went down with a shoulder injury late in the third quarter but he didn't have to miss any snaps because of the change in quarters. "It was touchy there for awhile," Tomlin said. "We were about to see (center Maurkice Pouncey) at left tackle."
PITTSBURGH -- Finalizing the 53-man roster before 4 p.m. ET Saturday is the Pittsburgh Steelers' top priority.

It might also be their last major order of business before the start of the regular season.

Worilds
Team president Art Rooney II told ESPN.com that there is a good chance that the Steelers won’t sign any more of their players to long-term deals before next year.

The Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham to new long-term contracts since June.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen remain the only starters who are candidates to receive new deals. The Steelers don't negotiate player contracts during the regular season, so it would be an understatement to say that the clock is ticking.

"There’s probably a chance we’ll do one more contract," Rooney said. "I don’t know if we will get it done or not, but we’re pretty much done with the signing process as we’re heading into the season."

Worilds is probably the odd man out even if the Steelers sign one more player to a new long-term contract before Sept. 7.

The fifth-year veteran will make $9.754 million in 2014 after signing the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on him in March, and the Steelers might not be willing to offer the kind of multi-year deal to make it worth it for Worilds to pass up making nearly $10 million this season.

The Steelers will still have some measure of control when it comes to Worilds’ rights even if they don’t sign him to a new contract before the start of the regular season.

They can tag Worilds again next year, which would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NFL year starts.

The Steelers appear to be content to see if Worilds can build on his strong second half from last season and then decide whether they are ready to commit to the former second-round draft pick long term.

Allen is the more likely of the two to sign a new contract becausee it might be more feasible -- and palatable -- for the Steelers from a financial standpoint.

Allen, whose cap hit is $1.529 million this season, is a promising young cornerback who has yet to put it together for an entire season. His signing a long-term contract would provide security for both Allen and the Steelers, who are thin at cornerback.

Given where the respective sides are coming from, it seems a lot more likely that Allen, not Worilds, and the Steelers find common ground on a new deal before the organization shuts down contract negotiations until next year.

PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession.

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier.

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller.

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.

All-AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 
The Steelers placed six players on ESPN.com’s All-AFC North team, including unanimous selections in wide receiver Antonio Brown and outside linebacker Jason Worilds. First, some background on how the team was selected. All four ESPN NFL Nation reporters who cover the respective teams in the AFC North on a daily basis voted on the squad, and we voted based on players’ specific positions in the case of the offensive line. That is why David DeCastro and Marshal Yanda are not the guards on the team. Both play right guard, and DeCastro got the nod over Yanda even though the latter has been voted to the Pro Bowl.

Wide receiver and inside linebacker were clearly the strength of the division. Brown, A.J. Green and Josh Gordon were all unanimous picks at wide receiver. All three are headed to the Pro Bowl and deservedly so. Lawrence Timmons had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he didn’t make the All-AFC North team because of the depth at inside linebacker. I voted for Timmons but can’t quibble with the selections of Daryl Smith and Vontaze Burfict. Each had outstanding seasons. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham makes the team in most other divisions but had no chance against Justin Tucker. Cameron Heyward stated his case at defensive end with a breakout season. But he didn’t become a starter until the fifth game of the season, and Bengals defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap were the picks at the position.

Rookie Le’Veon Bell justified his pick at running back with a strong finish that included 214 of his 860 rushing yards in the Steelers’ final two games. He is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are so excited about their offense heading into the offseason. Ben Roethlisberger was the obvious choice at quarterback. The 10-year veteran played every snap and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Roethlisberger is almost a lock to be added to the Pro Bowl squad, assuming a couple of the quarterbacks voted to the team bow out because their team has made the Super Bowl or are nursing an injury.

Steelers keep playoff hopes alive

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
11:05
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Ben Roethlisberger Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger and the Steelers survived a wild second half on the road against Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A punter with a distinct Aussie accent completed arguably the most important pass of the game.

A defensive end who hadn't played more than 10 snaps since the middle of November produced a sack and recovered a fumble that led to the late touchdown that set up a wild finish at snowy Lambeau Field.

A defense that might have taken the field with only some light clean-up work had coach Mike Tomlin played the percentages needed to make a last-second goal-line stand to preserve the Steelers' 38-31 win against the Packers on Sunday, ensuring Pittsburgh's playoff hopes survived another day.

The victory came in spite of the Steelers. But the improbable nature of the win seemed as apropos as the snow that coated the field at legendary Lambeau three days before Christmas.

The Steelers' alter ego has tried to sabotage this season countless times already -- including several times against the Packers -- and yet this team still ticks.

The Steelers are 7-8, and they will go into their final game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs. They still need a lot to happen, but the Steelers should be able to at least take care of their own business next Sunday -- and in less dramatic fashion than what transpired at Lambeau.

They play the 4-11 Browns in a 1 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field, which suddenly will have many fewer empty seats than recently expected.

"There's a chance," defensive end Brett Keisel said with a smile. "And we're going to fight."

And that is the rub on the latest edition of the Steelers, who have shown a knack for responding when pushed to the brink.

And you thought the Steelers had no identity.

"I think tonight showed there's no quit in this team," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "That's who we are."

Now let's talk about where they are with just one game left on the schedule.

"Still not going to talk about it, because we have to take care of our business," Roethlisberger said of the "P" word. "I don't even know what the scenario is, but I'm sure it's still pretty crazy."

It got a lot less crazy by the end of the afternoon games Sunday.

The Steelers got what they needed in wins from the Bills and Jets, and they can live with the Chargers beating the hapless Raiders.

They almost didn't hold up their end, squandering a double-digit fourth-quarter lead before scoring a late touchdown and then hanging on for dear life.

A compelling if not always cleanly played game -- the teams combined for 16 penalties -- could have turned following a bizarre sequence in the third quarter.

The Steelers' defense made an inspiring stand after Le'Veon Bell lost a fumble at Pittsburgh's 3-yard line. Steve McLendon blocked a short Mason Crosby field goal attempt, and Ryan Clark scooped up the loose ball.

Clark tried to lateral it to William Gay, but when the ball landed on the turf, Ziggy Hood swatted it out of bounds. Officials ruled that there had never been a change of possession, and they awarded the Packers the ball and a first down after an illegal batting call on Hood.

An irate Tomlin tried to challenge the call, which was made after a lengthy discussion among officials, but it was not reviewable. Tomlin seethed about the call even after the game.

"They screwed it up in my opinion," Tomlin said.

The Steelers nearly did the same after rebounding from that deflating swing with a pair of touchdowns.

They blew a 10-point lead before Keisel pounced on a loose ball that was a result of a Troy Polamalu strip-tackle with just less than two minutes left in the game.

The Packers delivered an early Christmas present when Nick Perry hopped offside before Shaun Suisham's 27-yard field goal attempt.

The Steelers had a first down at the 5-yard line with 1:35 left in the game. With the Packers having only one timeout remaining, Tomlin could have killed much of the clock and sent Suisham out for the equivalent of an extra point.

"I'm not into that," Tomlin said of having Roethlisberger take a knee twice after Bell had reached the 1-yard line. "Given an opportunity to score, we are going to score."

The score held up because rookie Shamarko Thomas chased down Micah Hyde after a 70-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' defense had one more stand in it -- albeit barely.

The story of the game, at least from the Steelers' vantage point, could have been questionable coaching decisions and the sequence that gave the Packers that ball back after a blocked field goal.

Instead, the story was punter Mat McBriar throwing a 30-yard pass -- on his second read, no less -- after a perfectly called fake punt that served as a precursor to a wild third quarter.

It was Keisel, who still has trouble putting weight on his injured heel, making two of the biggest plays near the end of the game -- and near the end of his Steelers career.

It was about the improbable adding up to what seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago: the Steelers having a chance to play beyond Dec. 29 this season.

"You've got to give our whole team credit for continuing to fight," Keisel said, "for continuing to believe."
Will Allen Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWill Allen (left) helped set up the Steelers' first touchdown during a 21-point first quarter.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ odds of making the playoffs were of the hit-the-lottery variety even before play started Sunday. They only increased after the Miami Dolphins held off a late rally to beat the New England Patriots and lengthen the list of what needs to happen for the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs, a list that is now longer than Troy Polamalu’s hair.

Against this backdrop and on a frigid night when an angry wind cut like a bad breakup, the Steelers seemed ripe for anything but what transpired at half-empty Heinz Field.

But in a season that has made little sense, it made perfect sense that the Steelers turned in their most inspired performance of 2013.

They clobbered the Cincinnati Bengals early and owned a quarter in which they had all too often been dominated this season. The Steelers, who had scored 43 points in the first quarter in 13 previous games, put up nearly half that total in the first 15 minutes Sunday night.

They dazed the Bengals with a three-touchdown barrage, and looked like the team playing for a first-round bye in the playoffs, not the one that is guaranteed back-to-back non-winning seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.

Cincinnati never recovered from the role reversal that left the Steelers with a sense of satisfaction, if not at all closer to the playoffs, following a 30-20 win.

“When you get the question a lot during the week -- 'What do you have to play for?' -- I think people are kind of looking for you to maybe have an opportunity to come out flat, and we didn’t do that and I’m excited about that for this team,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “I’m excited about that for the leaders and also for the young guys. To see the people come out and compete the way that they did when seemingly to the outside world we had nothing to play for, it was good for us.”

It also had to leave the Steelers wondering what might have been had they put together more all-around performances like the one they used to flatten the Bengals.

Five of the Steelers’ eight losses this season were by a touchdown or less. Their two most recent setbacks were by a combined eight points.

As much as injuries decimated the offensive line and breakdowns unmasked a once-fearsome defense, the Steelers are only a handful of plays from being 9-5 instead of 6-8. Among the what-ifs for the Steelers this season:

  • What if they hadn’t forgotten how to tackle against the Minnesota Vikings in London?
  • What if Shaun Suisham, who has been as automatic as a kicker can be, hadn’t missed a pair of chip shots in a three-point loss in Oakland?
  • What if Emmanuel Sanders had hung onto the two-point conversion pass in Baltimore?
  • What if the defense had protected a fourth-quarter lead against Miami instead of yielding a late 55-yard run to a backup running back who was playing on a bad knee?

“We can’t woulda, coulda, shoulda,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said.

Clark delivered a similar message after the Steelers improved to 6-8 by building the early 21-point lead and then holding off the Bengals.

“The NFL won’t give us an opportunity to go back and play those games over,” Clark said. “You don’t get the Tennessee Titans game back. You don’t get the Oakland Raiders game back, games that you feel like you should have won going in and also could have made plays to win the game.”

Clark talked in front of his locker, still clad in his entire uniform save for the helmet. Maybe the 12-year veteran wanted to bask in the win as long as possible, as it came in what could be his penultimate game in a Steelers uniform at Heinz Field.

Clark will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he is one of a handful of veterans who are viable candidates to be playing their last game with the Steelers on Dec. 29.

Maybe that reality, the likelihood that more turnover is coming to a team that had been able to resist it for so long, is why Steelers players did not collectively look too deep into the win against the Bengals. They simply wanted to enjoy the respite from what has been an incredibly frustrating season.

Perhaps they didn't want to think about how much they had squandered before putting together their most complete performance of the season.

There will be plenty of time for that after the season is over. The Steelers showed Sunday night that they are serious about finishing strong, even if 8-8 is unlikely to get them anything beyond the distinction of a non-losing season.

“I’ve said for a bunch of weeks now that there’s going to be no quit from me. I think tonight was a good example of that,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Everyone fought hard from start to finish. We just wanted to come out and show we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to the end.”

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 13

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
10:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Nick WassPittsburgh's offensive line took good care of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens.
O-line keeps Big Ben clean again: I thought the offensive line played one of its better games of the season. It is difficult to understand why the Steelers didn’t use their no-huddle offense more before the second half, because the line did not seem all that bothered by the crowd noise. It certainly wasn’t rattled by it. The Steelers had just one pre-snap penalty -- right guard David DeCastro was flagged for a false start in the second quarter -- and the Ravens did not sack quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The line has given up one sack over the past three games, and Roethlisberger has not been sacked in the past two games. Not that any of that mattered to DeCastro after the Steelers fell to 5-7. "It’s a tough one to swallow," he said. "I thought we played OK. We didn't run the ball efficiently in the first half. We protected Ben OK, but it wasn’t enough."

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.
Emmanuel SandersRob Carr/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders was unable to hold onto the conversion attempt that would have tied the game.

BALTIMORE -- Fernando Velasco sat in front of his locker as a trainer fit his right foot for a boot and then adjusted the crutches that the Steelers center needed to walk out of M&T Bank Stadium.

The Steelers were a lot like Velasco at the end of another classic slugfest with their bitter rivals and mirror image.

Banged up following a valiant effort, the Steelers are also in need of some assistance after losing a 22-20 heartbreaker to the Ravens in a game each team badly needed to win.

For all that prevented the Steelers from sweeping the Ravens for the first time since 2008 -- the early play-calling was as mystifying as it was conservative and there were assorted special-teams blunders -- they had the home team right where they wanted it after Ben Roethlisberger calmly flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery on fourth down.

The Steelers called the same exact play on the two-point conversion that would have tied a game. Roethlisberger went to the other side of the field this time, noting that that Chykie Brown had just entered the game at cornerback for the injured Jimmy Smith and had man coverage on Emmanuel Sanders.

Roethlisberger threw a quick, back-shoulder pass to Sanders, and the ball sailed through the hands of the player who fashions himself as a No. 1 receiver.

A lame onside kick attempt by Shaun Suisham sealed the Steelers' seventh loss in 12 games, and the defeat means Pittsburgh has to win its final four games just to give itself a chance of making the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team.

“I don't expect any quit,” a resolute Roethlisberger said after almost pulling off one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks. “We haven't quit to this point. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.”

The Steelers did just that after falling behind 13-0 and after injuries scrambled their offensive line more than usual. They also saw one of their players knocked out cold but were, oddly enough, the team penalized in the name of safety.

Le'Veon Bell, who had the best game of his promising career, appeared to score a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It came after a frightening collision with Smith near the goal line that caused Bell's helmet to pop off just before he fell across the goal line. A prayer circle quickly formed as medical personnel tended to the concussed Bell, and by the time he had been helped to his feet a rule that is supposed to protect players had taken the touchdown off the scoreboard. Since plays are ruled dead the moment a runner's helmet comes off, the ball was placed at the 1-yard line following a booth review of Bell's score.

The Steelers needed two more plays to score their third touchdown of the second half against a Ravens team that has one of the best red-zone defenses in the NFL. But they ultimately came up a play short in yet another Steelers-Ravens game that was was tighter than a shrunken turtleneck.

One thing that bodes well for the Steelers staying together and at least making a run at 9-7 is how quickly players were to accept blame for the loss.

“It's my fault that we lost,” Sanders said. “It's something I've got to deal with, but I'm not going to let it hold me down. Redemption Sunday is coming up.”

Sanders acknowledged that Brown did a good job of shielding the ball from his line of vision on the two-point conversion, but added, “That's no excuse. I consider myself a big-time player. I've got to come up with those plays.”

Troy Polamalu said the Steelers' defense didn't make enough plays even though it kept the Ravens out of the end zone after Baltimore's first possession of the game.

“Their defense played better than ours,” the Pro Bowl strong safety said. “That's what won them the game.”

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, said he could have done more to help he Steelers win even though he played brilliantly in leading the Steelers back from double-digit deficits twice in the second half.

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 44 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and he had the Ravens' defense on its heels by the end of the game.

Had the Steelers attacked more in the first half than they did in the final two quarters they may have never needed Sanders to make what would have been a tough catch to send the game into overtime.

But an insipid offensive game plan made it look like the Steelers were playing not to lose when they had every reason in the world to do whatever it took to win.

The Steeler managed just 98 yards on total offense in the first half, and they didn't score before halftime for the first time this season. The Steelers went with a no-huddle attack almost exclusively in the second half.

“Maybe we should have done it earlier and maybe I should have voiced that more, so I'll take that [blame] myself as well,” Roethlisberger said.

Such selflessness in defeat isn't easy to muster, especially given all that was on the line and all of the good the Steelers did only to wind up with a loss.

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “I appreciate the effort of the guys, but we didn't come down here with effort in mind. We came here to win.”

That's what made Roethlisberger and Sanders such a compelling sight as the latter walked to his locker after the loss that the Steelers may not be able to overcome. Roethlisberger pulled Sanders close and talked to him.

"That's for us," Roethlisberger later said of the conversation. "In general [it was], 'Keep your head up.'"

The Steelers will try to do the same.

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
11:43
PM ET

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

What it means: The Steelers' most heartbreaking loss of the season also dropped them out of contention in the AFC North. At 5-7, the Steelers probably have to win their final four games to make the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team. The offense started slow but finished with a flourish and the defense played well enough for the Steelers to win. Who knows what the outcome may have been had a tying two-point conversion pass not gone through Emmanuel Sanders' hands? The last of a handful of Sanders' drops allowed the Ravens to escape with a two-point victory.

Stock watch: Special teams cost the Steelers a chance to even their record and sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2008. A botched field-goal attempt in the first quarter -- kicker Shaun Suisham appeared to be on a different snap count than everyone else -- cost the Steelers three points. It also gave the Ravens a short field that they turned into three points. In addition to that six-point swing, the Steelers gave up a 73-yard kickoff return that led to a Ravens field goal. And Suisham's feeble on-side kick attempt sealed the loss for the Steelers.

Best foot forward: Fans booed lustily when a shot of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin flashed on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard late in the late third quarter. The pro-Ravens crowd had good reason to jeer the seventh-year coach and not just because of their general dislike of the Steelers. Tomlin had his foot on the field right before Jacoby Jones raced past him on the way to a 73-yard kickoff return. Tomlin should have been hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, and the non-call turned out to be significant as the Ravens had to settle for the third of Justin Tucker's four field goals.

Worilds brings more heat: With LaMarr Woodley again sidelined by a nagging calf injury, Jason Worilds excelled again at left outside linebacker. The fourth-year veteran continues to push his way into the Steelers' future plans -- and perhaps Woodley out of Pittsburgh. Worilds collected two sacks and made eight tackles, and that was just in the first half. Worilds may have been the best defensive player on the field, and he now leads the Steelers with six sacks. Woodley, who can't seem to stay on the field, has five sacks, and he is looking more and more like a candidate for the Steelers to part ways with after this season if they can re-sign Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

What's next: The Steelers get an extended break before returning to action Dec. 8 against the Dolphins at Heinz Field. The Dolphins got off to a promising start but their season has been engulfed in turmoil since the allegations of locker-room bullying turned into a national story. The Dolphins, who will be 6-6 at best after Sunday, haven't beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since 1990.

Grading the Steelers

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
11:45
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Marked improvement from the New England debacle.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t flashy, but he didn’t need to be in completing 18 of 30 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger threw a bad interception early in the game when Bills safety Jairus Byrd read him the whole way on a deep pass to Markus Wheaton. Byrd’s interception set up a field goal that gave Buffalo its only lead of the game. Grade: C+

Running backs: The Steelers stayed committed to the run, and as a result they rushed for 136 yards. Le'Veon Bell averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, but he scored a touchdown. Reserves Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones combined for 54 yards on 10 carries. Grade: B

Wallace
Brown
Receivers: Antonio Brown continues to build a strong case for the Pro Bowl, catching six passes for 104 yards. Brown set a team record for most receptions (67) through the first nine games of a season, but he needs a little more help. Emmanuel Sanders totaled just 13 yards on his four catches, and tight end Heath Miller was a non-factor in the passing game. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The Steelers used tackle Mike Adams as an extra tight end early and often, and the line more than held its own against Buffalo’s vaunted front. The Steelers’ 136 rushing yards were their second-most this season, and they shut out Bills sack maestro Mario Willliams. Williams, who entered the game with 11 sacks, did not even record a tackle against the Steelers. Grade: B

Defensive line: The Bills couldn’t establish the run, and it started up front for the Steelers. They controlled the line of scrimmage in holding the Bills to under 100 rushing yards and almost 50 below their season average. End Cameron Heyward, the third-year veteran who recorded a sack, has shined since becoming a starter. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons owned the middle of the field as he registered eight tackles and delivered a handful of jarring hits, including one on a sack of Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. The Steelers still aren’t getting enough pressure from their outside linebackers, though Jarvis Jones recorded his first career sack. Grade: B+

Secondary: The maligned unit bounced back in a big way after getting torched at New England. It allowed just two receptions of 10 yards or more, and the Steelers’ defensive backs were solid in tackling, whether it was after a catch or in run support. Ryan Clark's interception set up a field goal. Grade: A-

Special teams: Take away a couple subpar Mat McBriar punts, and this group was nearly flawless. Brown broke a big punt return for the third game in a row and Shaun Suisham was perfect on three field goal attempts. Four of Suisham’s six kickoffs went for touchbacks, though one also ended up out of bounds. The kick coverage teams were solid as usual. Grade: A-

Coaching: The Steelers were disciplined on defense, and they did not allow the Bills to run the ball. They stuck with the running game even though the offense got off to another slow start, and that commitment set up a second-quarter touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery. The one negative: the Steelers had to settle for field goals after Brown’s punt return and Clark’s interception gave the offense short fields. Grade: A-

Midseason Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
9:00
AM ET

The Steelers lost five of their last seven games a year ago to finish 8-8 and with the first non-winning season in Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach. The season was framed, at least by optimists, as an aberration and deemed unacceptable by the organization that has won six Super Bowls.

If only people knew the Steelers’ second-half swoon in 2012 was but a precursor to what has transpired through the first half of this season.

The Steelers are 2-6 and need a miracle approximating the scope of the Immaculate Reception to make the playoffs. They have all but played themselves out of postseason contention before the leaves have fallen, leaving players as stunned as they are angry.

“If you would have told me in the offseason [that the Steelers would lose six of their first eight games]) I would have told you no way,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a great organization and it’s a winning organization.”

It’s also one that has struggled in almost every aspect on the field, and the tough times the Steelers have experienced are reflected in their midseason grades:

Special teams a black hole for Steelers

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
11:00
PM ET
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.

Locker Room Buzz: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
8:52
PM ET
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Observed in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders:

Suisham
Taking the blame: Give Shaun Suisham credit for one thing: the veteran kicker at least answered questions after his two misses from inside of 35 yards cost the Steelers dearly. “We would have won the football game today if I was better,” said Suisham, who entered the game 14-of-14 on field-goal attempts and made a 47-yard before his two misses.

On the mend: David DeCastro, on the other hand, did not feel like talking and cut a postgame interview short after just two questions. DeCastro’s pain emanated from more than just the Steelers’ loss. The right guard hurt his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return to the game. He and Guy Whimper (knee) are slated to get MRIs after the Steelers return to Pittsburgh.

Demoralizing loss: He had almost a hurt look in his eyes and his voice was softer than usual, which is saying something for strong safety Troy Polamalu. It was also telling about the number of opportunities the Steelers squandered in falling to 2-5. “I guess maybe that makes it more disappointing,” Polamalu said. “They made more plays, their defense played better than we did.”

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