Breaking down the good, bad, and ugly in Steelers loss to Jaguars

I always feel compelled to take a few days off from writing a Good, Bad, Ugly piece when it’s after the last game of the season. Unless that game is in February, initially, it’s always going to feel like it’s just all ugly. Usually, a little perspective helps to temper things and I can see more than that.

I realized that this time, it might take a little longer. It might take a lot longer. In fact, I may not truly be able to rationalize the things that were good and merely bad until training camp starts.

That’s how ugly this game felt.

But you know how it is, and I can’t really wait for seven months (oh God, seven months?!). So, without further reflection, here is the good, the bad and one sh*t ton of ugly from the Steelers divisional round playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.


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The B’s

  • Ben – 37 of 58, 469 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 1 Fumble, QB Rating 110.5
  • Bell – 16 for 67 yards and 1 TD, 9 receptions for 88 yards
  • Brown – 7 catches for 132 yards and 2 TDs
  • Bryant – 2 catches for 78 yards and 1 TD

Yes, they screwed the pooch a bit early, and are at least partially responsible for the team being in a 21-0 hole. Partially, because even though they went 3 and out on the first series, they weren’t the ones who let the Jaguars march down the field on their first series like Sherman marching to Atlanta. No, that was all on the defense.

And yes, the two turnovers didn’t help. The interception was just an incredible play by Myles Jack. Ben probably could have led McDonald more, but still, that was just a great play. The fumble? Well, that comes with Ben being Ben, and if Ben being Ben also gets me 5 TDs I’ll take that all day long.

The offense wasn’t the problem in this game, not by a long shot. 42 points should have been more than enough to put the Jaguars away, even with Ben spotting them 7 points on the fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Vance McDonald

10 catches, 112 yards

Vance McDonald, when he’s on the field, gives the Steelers a playmaking tight end. They need that guy. I sure hope they find a way to keep him this offseason. If they do, he probably should change his name to Bance.


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Did anyone one in this group show up? I’ll wait.

No, they didn’t. If I want to look for the most tarnished of silver linings, the corners didn’t play that bad. Joe Haden was solid, and minus one huge error by Artie Burns, he wasn’t that bad either.

But the rest of them, oh my gawd. Blown coverages, missed assignments, lack of communication. All of it came home to roost in this game. Sean Spence was the opposite of good, the entire linebacking group (which will include Will Gay for the sake of argument) was just out of sync all game long. Nobody seemed to know where to go, who to cover or what their assignments were.

Ryan Shazier was never missed so much, or so badly.

The Refs

It goes a long way in explaining how ugly his game was when the refs (who, by the way, stink) are merely “bad” in comparison.

Let me be clear – the refs were not just bad when calling (or more clearly NOT calling) penalties on or against the Steelers. The personal foul call on Jalen Ramsey was ludicrous. JuJu did a wonderful job of forcing that by pushing Ramsey, but the refs should have seen that and not made the call. It was brutal.

My season-long tirade on officiating isn’t just because they make bad calls that don’t benefit the Steelers. It’s because of the stink universally. They make or don’t make, bad choices on both sides of the ball, and other than a certain team that plays in Foxboro, I don’t see any clear favoritism. They just stink. That being said, of course, I’m going to complain more loudly about the bad calls that impacted the Steelers. Hey, I admit, I pay more attention to them.

In this game, it really wasn’t so much the calls that were made as much as it is the calls that weren’t made. Some of those penalties wouldn’t have impacted the play, but so many of them did or would have. Like the false start that wasn’t called. Like the innumerable holding calls that were ignored against T.J. Watt (who looked to be playing the majority of the game in a choke hold from one offensive lineman or another). Like the tackling (holding) of Stephon Tuitt. Not to mention the holding of JuJu’s jersey on a certain fourth and one play.

Officiating is a massive problem, and it’s not just in making the wrong calls, it’s when you chose not to make calls as well. I could vent on this for hours, but one thing is certain. How many times has a penalty that was away from the play, and which had no actual impact on the play been a thorn in the Steelers side this season?

Too often to count. And yet, holding, which I am aware could “probably” be called on every play, in a game like this, which clearly benefits a poor offensive team when it’s not being called (and it wasn’t, not once) is ignored.

I have heard people saying “Hey, they let them play!” but the problem is that hasn’t been, and still isn’t something that’s consistent. You can’t “let them play” one game, and the next change the rules.

The refs stink. Fire them all and hire new guys. Make them full time and hold them accountable. Teach them. Test them. Make sure they know the rules inside and out.

And please, for the love of all that is holy, fire Al Riveron.


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Fourth and 1 Play Calling

How often have I defended Todd Haley? OK, maybe not that often. It’s more accurate to say I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt. Yes, like everyone else, the overuse of bubble screens and cute play calls has annoyed me to no end over the years. Still, I will give him credit for limiting Ben’s exposure to being killed. I have never been a Haley-hater, or a member of the #FireHaley crowd.

Until now.

Are you f*****g kidding me? Two times we are at fourth and 1 and the play calls are a toss and a pass? A stud offensive line, a massive fullback and one of, if not the best running backs in the league, and you do that stupid sh*t?

Put on your big boy pants and play some damn football. There is no rule that says running up the middle is forbidden on fourth and 1, or fourth and a foot. If you can’t trust these guys to make enough room to get one damn yard, then you need better guys! Personally, if I’m the offensive line, I’m offended. If I’m Coach Munchak, I’m offended. What your really saying is I don’t have faith that my line can get enough push to get one yard when it counts. The Jaguars are one of, if not the best team in the NFL at containing the outside. They are excellent against the pass. The one weakness, highlighted again and again and again over the two weeks leading up to this game was running up the middle.

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the brain-dead choice of plays in the first drive! Even now, I can’t join the #FireHaley club, because the Steelers can no longer fire Todd Haley. He’s no longer under contract after this season. What they can do is not re-sign Todd Haley.

So I’m all in on that hashtag #DontRe-SignHaley.

An Onside Kick? Really?

As angry and perplexed as I am over those fourth down calls, they aren’t what haunts me. Every morning since that game I’ve woken up and thought “An onside kick? Really?”

That is what is going to haunt me. Just yesterday Coach Tomlin was still defending the call:

I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature, if I err, I’m always going to err on the side of action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly them knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don’t fear failure.


While I don’t think Tomlin should, or could say anything else, it’s bull. One of my favorite Tomlin-sims is the quote “We don’t live in our fears”, but that onside kick was all about fear. Fear that the defense could not make a stop against that future Hall of Fame quarterback Blake Bortles. A QB who, when in a similar situation earlier in the season, wasn’t trusted enough by his own team to win the game. That decision was all about living in that fear of the defense failing, as it had for most of the game.

Tomlin is correct saying that it’s a lower percentage play to go for the onside kick. It is. It’s like a Hail Mary pass, but probably even less likely to succeed. The percentages were infinitely greater than the defense actually could make a stop, and give the Steelers one last shot to tie the game. Not to mention that a failed onside kick was almost certainly going to mean a field goal attempt, which if successful would put the game out of reach. Which of course, is what ultimately happened.

That was a call born out of fear. It smacked of panic. It screamed lack of confidence in your own men. It was a bad call, probably the worst call of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. But if you think I’m joining the Tomlin bashers you are not paying attention. I still love Mike Tomlin as my coach and have no interest in trying to find someone else. They all make some truly bone-headed decisions at times. Or have we all forgotten how the mad scientist Belichick went for it on fourth down against the Colts, allowing Peyton Manning to beat him?

Nobody is perfect. Tomlin has his flaws, no doubt. But there simply aren’t any better coaches out there, and I have no interest finding someone else to lead this group.

But an onside kick? Really?


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What’s left to say? It’s over, and it feels wrong. This isn’t how the DMR and #Shalieve season was supposed to end. It just isn’t. Sometimes tragedy and struggle lift you up and you achieve more.

And sometimes it doesn’t.

If Ryan Shazier isn’t lost for the season, does this all end differently? We will never know but I would be willing to speculate that it does. It was just that big a blow to that defense. For now, I’m just going to get ready to root for #AnyoneButNE and think about the draft and hope that sometime before the start of training camp we are all blessed to see the one thing that might take the sting away from the way this season ended.

Ryan Shazier walking.

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