All of the dreams that went into the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season have quickly managed to turn into nightmares in the wake of the 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Ben Roethlisberger became the 8th quarterback in NFL history to throw 400 touchdown passes and surpass Dan Marino (61,361) for #6 on the All-Time NFL Yardage record list. Ironic that on a day that Roethlisberger achieved such historic milestones that he’ll be more remembered for the two passes he missed:
- The overthrow to a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster for what would have been a walk-in 32-yard touchdown reception in the 2nd quarter that would have tied the game at 14-14.
- The overthrow to an equally wide-open Smith-Schuster on what would have been an 80-yard touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter that would have closed the gap to 20-17.
Roethlisberger continued to disappoint on the day, furthering the narrative that Big Ben is “done” by completing two passes over 20 yards on the day. The nay-sayers might be right in this case, as the once clutch Roethlisberger threw twice failed to even throw past the first down marker on 4th and 4 as the Steelers were already on the edge of losing with an outside chance of coming back.
The Steelers had no answer for stopping Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb on 3rd down – as the pair converted 4 consecutive times. Cobb had only 3 catches for 58 yards through the first three weeks. Cobb caught 5 for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns Sunday afternoon. This despite how the Steelers defense shut down the Packers top playmakers Aaron Jones and Davante Adams.
The Steelers certainly did not get the breaks on the day either. The Steelers defense gave its all to stop the Packers, only to have Joe Haden erroneously called for an offsides to nullify a touchdown by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who blocked a field goal attempt, recovered the loose ball and ran it back 75-yards for a what could have been a game altering score and a 17-10 lead at the half.
T.J. Watt, obviously playing at less than 100%, still managed 2 sacks (with his customary ref swallowing the whistles on obvious holding penalties he forced) and the Steelers defense was better when it applied more pressure, including a sack by Devin Bush. But the Steelers defense and special teams did not make (or had bad calls negate) the plays to help the offense, certainly not like the Packers did. A Roethlisberger fumble when the pocket collapsed on a sack, gave the Packers the ball on the Steelers 25-yard line. Pressley Harvin III had a shanked 20-yard punt to give the Packers almost as prime field position to start the drive on the Steelers 40-yard line. Fitzpatrick had a great chance to intercept a Rodgers pass early but could only get a hand on it.
This sequence of plays turned a close game into a blowout, as the Steelers could have been right in it but did not convert their opportunities and made enough unforced errors that ate up any margin for error that the Steelers could ill-afford to have. By the end of the game, the team looked completely dejected, to losing yet another player to a groin injury in Cam Sutton. Kevin Dotson was also injured in the game.
This is a team that desperately needs to get healthy in a hurry. The bright spots were from Najee Harris, who the Packers defense basically could not stop and had an incredibly impressive leap to score a 4th quarter touchdown (making it his first rushing TD of his professional career). Perhaps the return of Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor might better position them to run the ball more frequently, as Dan Moore Jr. struggled again all day. Diontae Johnson hauled in a 45-yard touchdown to end the Steelers 12-consecutive game streak of failing to score on the opening drive and really should have drawn another flag for PI to position the Steelers on the 2-yard line, but his inexplicable running backwards after gaining 3 yards on a 3rd and 4 to negate any positive yardage on the game was as frustrating as was the false start that he committed that forced the Steelers to punt.
2021 is shaping up to be a season of scouting out for the draft after only four weeks. The 1-3 start is the team’s worst since 2013 and while that team finished 8-4, the general feeling is this time around it’s not looking even remotely like the Steelers and Mike Tomlin are going to avoid a losing season.
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