The Pittsburgh Steelers’ slow start to the season was hard to understand. Even though they have had a tendency to start slow before, going 1-2-1 to start the year was unexpected, but following that up with a six-game losing streak shouldn’t be. That sort of thing has been in their DNA in recent years.
A random late-game losing streak, however, has not, so it was hard to process the three weeks leading up to Sunday’s huge game against the New England Patriots. The biggest culprit, of course, was the defense. In each of their three losses, the Steelers held a lead in the second half, twice in the fourth quarter, and had at least a share of the lead in each game heading into the final frame.
In two of those games, Ben Roethlisberger even led comeback drives to either take the lead or tie the score. He had another drive that set the team up to tie the score with a last-second field goal that was missed when Chris Boswell slipped and sent the ball off Ramon Foster’s back.
Exactly as they should, the defense has been taking these losses personally, and Joe Haden, among the veteran leaders, made that pretty clear after the game. Of course he got his second interception of the season off a poor Tom Brady pass in the fourth quarter inside the red zone that helped keep the Patriots off the board during the final 15 minutes.
“Having that three-game losing streak, we weren’t really stopping anything in the second half of games,” the nine-year veteran told Will Graves for the Associated Press. “We really talked about that and trying to make it right before the playoffs”.
We’ll have to see if they’ve really made it right heading into the playoffs, as there are still two more games to play, including one of the toughest tests of the season with the New Orleans Saints in their home stadium and still a lot to play for.
“We were just trying to figure out a way to get turnovers”, Haden said. “We’ve been letting the team down a little bit in the fourth quarter. Having a lead and things like that. So we’ve been talking about turnovers. I feel like being able to get that one was big for us”.
Turnovers have not been kind to the Steelers. They even had a negative turnover differential against the Patriots, Roethlisberger being intercepted twice by Duron Harmon. They have just 14 takeaways on the year, or one per game, and the one against the Oakland Raiders was nothing short of a gift.
Haden’s interception was just the seventh of the year, and he was the first player to get more than one. Sean Davis led the team with three interceptions in 2017 but hasn’t gotten any this year in his first season at free safety.