It’s hard to win any NFL game when you lose the turnover battle; that much is equally true for every team in the league, every year, in any era of the game. If you give up possessions—and especially if they end promising drives or set up promising drives for the opposition—they can easily flip a game.
Turnovers are often a significant momentum swing, and are regularly the defining moments in a game, the turning point that ultimately led to the eventual outcome. That was certainly the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers last night after a Fitzgerald Toussaint fumble on the Broncos’ 31-yard line with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter in a one-point game turned the tide in favor of the home team.
Following the fumble, which was recovered by Denver at its own 35-yard line, Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense embarked in a 13-play, 65-yard, nearly seven-minute touchdown drive, punctuated by a two-point conversion that made it a seven-point deficit with three minutes left to play.
The Steelers went on to lose the game, as they have in most of their postseasn contests in which they have lost the turnover battle, and the same is true of everybody. Without actually working out all the calculations, it is a fairly safe assumption that every team in the league has a losing record when they lose the turnover battle.
Turnovers are often particularly decisive in the postseason, when points are even harder to come by and everything takes on greater significance. And thus, a deficit in the turnover margin can be even more difficult to overcome. Yesterday’s loss is just the latest in Steelers postseason history when they have more giveaways than takeaways.
Following last night’s game, the Steelers have played in 57 postseason games, posting an overall record of 34-22. The 34 wins is tied for the most in postseason history, but the 23 losses is not far behind the most in that category either. And the vast majority of the latter column is riddled with negative turnover margins.
The loss to Denver was just the 16th loss in the Steelers’ postseason history in which they have lost the turnover battle. Another five losses came in games in which they recorded as many turnovers as they gave up to the opposition. In other words, the Steelers have lost just one game in which they won the turnover battle, that being the 2002 overtime 34-31 loss to the Titans, when they recorded four takeaways and had just one giveaway.
When the Steelers receive more than they give, they are 19-1. When they give more than they receive, they are 10-16. None of those victories game in games with turnover deficits greater than two. their 1975 victory over the Raiders in the AFC Championship game featured seven giveaways, but also five takeaways.
The Steelers have tied in the turnover margin 10 times, winning four games and losing six. Thus, they have an overall 14-22 record when they do not win the turnover battle, and a 20-1 record when they do. There would be no trend-bucking for the 2015 Steelers last night.