During the broadcast of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last night, they showed a graphic at one point that really seems to crystalize why the team will be staying home and not suiting up for another game during the 2018 season.
After going 13-3 a year ago and so frequently coming out on top in close games and in clutch moments, the Steelers went just 9-6-1 this year, and that has largely been because they have failed to deliver when they have needed it most—all three units, not just offense, not just defense, not just special teams.
According to that graphic—featured above—the Steelers heading into the season finale were just 2-4-1 in games decided by five points or fewer in 2018. Of course, they added another win over the Bengals yesterday, 16-13.
The graphic also shows that the team had five blown leads in the fourth quarter, which was tied for the third-most in the NFL. I’m not sure if that statistic only includes games that they lost this season, but they did also blow the lead against the Bengals last night, which led to the game-winning drive ending with a Matt McCrane field goal.
Defensive end and team captain Cameron Heyward has been one of the Steelers’ best and most important players for years now, putting in yet another strong effort in 2018, finishing with 51 tackles, eight sacks—the second-most in his career—a forced fumble, and three passes defensed.
Heyward understands the issue better than anybody, in others words, and he summed things up after the game. “Our execution in critical moments wasn’t what it needed to be”, he said, sitting in front of his locker after the results of the Baltimore Ravens game came in. “It’s gonna be a long offseason”.
Whether it was Chris Boswell missing field goals, Ben Roethlisberger throwing interceptions, JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbling, or any number of defensive failures that allowed go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter, the Steleers’ inability to close out games cost them their season, plain and simple.
There were only two games all season in which they did not own at least a share of the lead at some point in the fourth quarter this year. The Kansas City Chiefs and the first game against the Ravens are those two games. They also entered the loss to the Denver Broncos tied. In every other of their 13 games, Pittsburgh was leading, at some point, in the final 15 minutes. They only ended up winning nine of those 13 games. That’s not good enough.
“We tried to win games, but not executing in those critical moments, like I said, will bite you”, Heyward said, and there’s really not much else to say. Execution in every area of the game at some point came back to haunt the Steelers this year, and the memories of those failures will continue to haunt them throughout the offseason, reminding them of what could have been.