One of the many byproducts, though perhaps one that was intended, of the numerous rule changes the league has made over the years that has largely favored a blossoming of offensive play has been that, more and more frequently, games are remaining competitive down to the waning minutes.
The 2018 season saw more games end in a one-score differential than any in the history of the NFL, and the 2019 season isn’t far behind. The Pittsburgh Steelers are doing their part to maintain that status quo, as they have already lost three games this season by a combined nine points. Most recently, they fell to the Baltimore Ravens in overtime on the strength of a Justin Tucker field goal.
There was little, at that point, that Keith Butler’s unit could’ve done. Mike Tomlin even put his defense on the field first, and they got a three-and-out, even sending the Ravens backwards. But a crushing JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble on the ensuing possession left Baltimore in field goal range already, and Tucker clocked it from 46 yards out.
It was a rollercoaster for much of the game, particularly in the fourth quarter on, and that has been a theme for the Steelers, and the defense, for much of the year. Butler hasn’t been ignorant of that fact, something he discussed with reporters yesterday, courtesy of a transcript from the team’s media department.
“For most games in the league, there are a lot of games in the league that will come down to the last two minutes of the game”, Butler said when discussing the end of regulation in which the Ravens scored a game-tying field goal. “That is good for the NFL, but bad for the hearts of coaches. That is the way it is going to be. We accept that. I thought we did all right. Obviously, not good enough. We have to make one more play”.
‘One more play’ could be the theme of the Steelers’ season so far. Could be the difference between 1-4 and 4-1. They have one commanding victory, and one commanding defeat. The rest of the games have been toss-ups that have been decided by any number of late-game turning points that did not go their way.
“Those were two field goals we didn’t answer, and they beat us”, Butler said of the final minutes of the game, prior to which they led by a field goal. “It is as simple as that. That is the way the league is. You are going to have games like that all year long. It is going to be like that all year long, we are going to be close, but we have to produce at the end of the game”.
This was already a growing concern a year ago. Of the seven games in which they ended with a loss or a tie, five of them saw the Steelers enter the fourth quarter with the lead or a share of the lead. Neither the defense nor the offense closed it out. They did so in 2017 to great success. They have to get back to that now.