Earlier this past week, we talked about five things Pittsburgh needed to improve upon if they hoped to compete for a playoff spot down the stretch this season. The team’s failure to perform acceptably in three of those areas – third downs, red zone touchdown opportunities, and continuing to play the hapless, clearly injured Antwon Blake – finally caught up to them.
An eventful first half saw both teams exchange scores and big plays on the way to a 18-14 halftime lead. Pittsburgh got the scoring started with a 12-play, 58-yard drive, capped by Chris Boswell’s 44-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Steelers looked as if they would extend their lead on the team’s next drive, lining up for another 44-yard field goal to begin the 2nd quarter. Instead the coaches called for an ill-advised fake, with Landry Jones throwing back across the field to eligible offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane easily intercepted the poor toss, returning the pick all the way to Pittsburgh’s 24 yard-line.
Russell Wilson eventually cashed in on the turnover, finding Doug Baldwin from 16 yards out for a 7-3 lead on 3rd-and-16. It was one of four 3rd-and-10+ situations the Steelers allowed Seattle to convert in the first half.
The Steelers countered quickly, when Martavis Bryant capped a 49-yard drive by scoring on an end-around from 11 yards out. It was a rough day for Bryant in many respects, but the receiver made several defenders miss on a creative run.
Seattle overcame three 3rd-and-longs to drive 85 yards in 11 plays and finish off another scoring drive when Wilson found Jermaine Kearse on a 12-yard scoring pass with 2:10 left in the first half.
Trailing 14-10, Roethlisberger hit Markus Wheaton on three straight passes, including a 41-yarder that eventually set up DeAngelo Williams six-yard scamper for a touchdown. The quarterback then found Jesse James for a two-point conversion to put Pittsburgh up 18-14 at the half. Wheaton had 103 yard receiving after two quarters, the most he’s had in any NFL game to date.
After forcing a quick three-and-out to start the third quarter, the Steelers offense marched 78 yards in 11 plays, but could not finish in the red zone yet again, settling for a Boswell 25-yard field goal.
Another three-and-out by Seattle looked to give Pittsburgh the momentum, but Roethlisberger let a pass slip out of his hand and right into the arms of Seattle defense lineman Ahtya Rubin. It took the Seahawks just two plays from the Steelers 37 yard line to score, as Wilson found Jimmy Graham to the Pittsburgh one for 37 yards on a circus pitch-and-catch. Thomas Rawls busted in from a yard out one play later, but Pittsburgh maintained a 21-20 lead when Cam Heyward blocked the extra point attempt.
Both teams exchanged punts, but instead of capitalizing, Roethlisberger aired one out for Antonio Brown, who was shoved down by Richard Sherman on his route, but no flag was thrown. Sherman tracked down the ill-advised toss for an easy interception, returning the ball to the Steelers 39.
Wilson scrambled away from a Bud Dupree sack and was pushed out of bounds by Lawrence Timmons, which drew a questionable unnecessary roughness flag from the officials. Replays showed Wilson was several steps from the sideline when Timmons nudged his back, but the poor call moved Seattle to the Steelers 24. Four plays later Seattle was in the end zone, when Kearse stemmed inside to beat Ross Cockrell for the touchdown and a 26-21 lead. The two-point conversion attempt was no good.
Roethlisberger countered three plays later by airing out a dime on the run to Wheaton, who reeled in the pass between two defenders and scampered to the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown. Sherman intercepted the two-point conversion pass in the back of the end zone to keep Pittsburgh’s lead to just one point at 27-26.
Wilson didn’t waste time responding, going 73 yards in just six plays before Wilson found Baldwin deep for another touchdown. The receiver torched Will Allen on a double move for the easy score. The two-point conversion attempt by Rawls fell short when the running back was stood up at the goal line by several Pittsburgh defenders.
The Steelers mounted a great drive in response, going 71 yards in 14 plays, but again could not finish in the red zone. Roethlisberger scrambled for seven yard on 3rd-and-goal from the 10, but Mike Tomlin elected to kick the field goal with just 3:02 remaining and the Steelers down 32-27. Boswell’s chip shot made it 32-30.
Relying on a defense that hadn’t had many stops on the day proved to be disastrous, as Wilson found Baldwin torching Blake on a crossing route for the first down, who then slipped Mike Mitchell and Blake’s tackles for an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown and a 39-30 lead with two minutes remaining.
Roethlisberger was removed from the game for concussion protocol, undoubtedly because of a head shot he had taken from the Seahawks Michael Bennett earlier on the Steelers previous drive. Landry Jones replaced him, but was intercepted when Bryant couldn’t come down with a jump ball again, and Kam Chancellor picked off the ricocheted pass.
The loss was a big one for Pittsburgh, not only because of the multiple blown opportunities to win the game, but because the 39-30 failure moves them out of the playoff picture for the moment. The secondary was dreadful, allowing Wilson to torch them for 345 yards and five touchdowns, while failing to register a turnover.
The offense turned the ball over four times, while converting just 5-11 third down opportunities and going just 2-4 in the red zone. Roethlisberger threw 55 times, completing 36 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Wheaton had by far the best day of his career, catching nine passes for 201 yards and a score. Brown was held to six catches for 51 yards, while Bryant had just five grabs for 69 yards on 13 targets, including several drops.
The Steelers will look to get back on the winning track next Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts, who are undefeated with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback.