The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered one of their more frustrating losses in recent years this past Sunday, allowing the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with just seven seconds remaining on the clock.
And in more than any other game this season, the performance of the special teams units played a role in that loss.
Not only were they penalized three times on special teams, they twice aided scoring drives by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the punting game, and Shaun Suisham continued to show why the Steelers don’t let him kick beyond 49 yards often.
After losing a fumble on their first drive, the Steelers offense went three-and-out the second time around. Brad Wing sent a 46-yard punt down the field to the 20-yard line, but the coverage team allowed a 25-yard return.
The Buccaneers advanced the ball only 23 yards on six plays—including a 15-yard facemask penalty on Mike Mitchell—before stalling out at the Steelers’ 32-yard line, from which they took a 10-0 lead on the strength of a 50-yard field goal.
After Suisham got the team on the board on the Steelers’ next possession by kicking a 25-yard field goal, he sent the ensuing kickoff out of the back of the end zone. Yet Darrius Heyward-Bey was flagged for being offside, giving Tampa Bay the ball at the 25 instead. The next kickoff was returned to the 31-yard line.
The Steelers ended the half losing six yards on a Ben Roethlisberger sack on third and six, which pushed them back to the 32-yard line. Suisham proceeded to miss the 50-yard field goal.
It almost seems as though there’s something psychological that comes into play when he attempts a field goal from 50 or beyond. Perhaps he’s forcing distance that he doesn’t have to, sacrificing accuracy in the process, because those attempts are often wildly inaccurate.
Midway through the fourth quarter, after Wing was able to pin Tampa Bay at their own 10 after a four-yard return, Robert Golden was flagged on the tackle for a facemask, allowing the Buccaneers to start from the 25 instead.
Finally, Wing sent his last punt just 29 yards down the field with the Steelers desperately clinging to a four-point lead from their own 17-yard line, downed on just the 46-yard line. The Buccaneers completed the comeback five plays later.
Throw in another penalty on William Gay earlier in the game for a hold during a punt and you have a rather poor day for the special teams, even without allowing any excessively long returns or touchdowns. Poor punting or punt coverage twice gave the opposition short fields that they took advantage of to score.