Ben Roethlisberger’s assessment of the Steelers’ loss on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore included contemplating what might have been.
“It’s incredibly frustrating because you get so close,” Roethlisberger said.
He might just as easily have been describing the way the 2013 season has played out.
Just when it appeared the Steelers were on the verge of turning a corner and becoming a capable, dangerous team _ they were both against the Ravens despite the 22-20 setback _ another spate of injuries popped up to complicate the process.
Losing center Fernando Velasco for the season and left tackle Kelvin Beachum for Sunday’s Miami game has thrown yet another hurdle into the path of a team that’s tripped over too many already along the way to 5-7.
Over the last three weeks the Steelers have allowed one sack while scoring 37, 27 and 20 points. The no-huddle, quick-from-the-pocket approach they’ve embraced has
allowed them to protect the ball and possess it, and to take the pressure off of a defense that is much more effective when it is called upon less frequently.
They were a misfire or two from Roethlisberger, a dropped pass or two from Emmanuel Sanders and/or a botched field goal attempt from Shaun Suisham away from dominating a good Baltimore defense in a hostile environment.
Can the Steelers pick up where they left off with a new center and a new left tackle?
“We knew they have a great pass rush,” Roethlisberger had said in the immediate aftermath of the Ravens game. “They bring a lot of different blitzes. The plan was to get
the ball out (of the pocket quickly). You kind of have to pick your battles.
“We had a third-down conversion, a long one, to Antonio (Brown) kind of late (in the game), one to Heath (Miller) down the middle late. We still took our chances but we knew with a good pass rush we had to get the ball out.
“We took our chances, threw a couple deep balls. We had a couple holding penalties down the field on them.”
In other words they still gained yards on chunk plays, still demonstrated a combustible element even while playing safety-first offense.
It would have been a winning formula but for “a couple missed opportunities, throws that I need to make,” Roethlisberger said. “You never play a perfect game.”
They won’t play one the rest of the way, either.
But if the Steelers play as well in December as they played against the Ravens they’ll win enough games to make the playoffs.
The question is, can they?
Or, have they reached the saturation point of what they can absorb in terms of injuries up front?
With games remaining at Detroit, against New England and at Cincinnati the Ravens are going to lose again, probably at least twice.
The other 6-6 team ahead of the Steelers in the AFC playoff chase, the Dolphins, will be waiting for them on Sunday at Heinz Field.
A path to the postseason remains available to the Steelers.
We’ll find out starting on Sunday if they’re still capable of navigating it.