Coping with Loss and Hating Ike Taylor: Wild Card Wrap Up

It hurts to write about the Steelers’ 29-23 wild card loss to the Broncos so soon after it happened, but here I go.

Although this game will be beneficial for exposing the fact that the NFL’s new playoff overtime rules are just as fundamentally flawed as the old ones were, it really was one of the tougher Steelers’ losses I’ve ever had to deal with.

Not just because the team loses out on a chance for rematch with New England or Baltimore as they strive for a seventh ring; it seemed pretty clear that this really wasn’t this particular team’s year.

More because of how it happened. Falling behind, making things seem hopeless, then storming back with a furious comeback before losing on the very first play of overtime. It all makes for a gut punch for the ages.

Perhaps worse than that is the aftermath. The national sports media is insistent on perpetuating the myth of Tim Tebow, and so all of the headlines about the game involve Denver’s “quarterback” once again leading his team to victory.

If any of these analysts had actually taken the time to watch this game, they’d know that Tebow had little to do with this win. Instead, Demaryius Thomas was the Bronco that had the biggest impact on this win. More importantly, Pittsburgh’s complete inability to defend him really changed the outcome of this game, with a light dusting of refereeing incompetence thrown in.

The game turned when Mike Wallace’s 52-yard reception was overturned with little in the way of hard evidence after Denver had taken the lead. That was just one part of a disastrous second quarter that was highlighted by Thomas’ pair of backbreaking long receptions.

Any quarterback, no matter how incompetent, should be able to hit a receiver if he is truly wide open, and Thomas had about as much freedom to run as anyone that’s played the Steelers this year.

For that, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Ike Taylor.

It’s no secret that Taylor has had his problems with Steelers fans, and I’ve certainly been one of his biggest detractors. But after signing a big extension in the offseason, he put in one of his finest years ever. Teams wouldn’t throw in his direction by the end of the season, as he had truly evolved into the cover corner the Steelers had always hoped he’d be. I was even outraged on his behalf when he was excluded from the Pro Bowl.

Perhaps it was destiny that Taylor should draw us in over the course of this season, only to make the final failure that much more painful. It looked as if Taylor was unaware that he was in the middle of a playoff game on Sunday, looking helpless as Thomas managed to get behind him play after play.

Taylor committed one pass interference penalty on Thomas that got called, and at least three others that I noticed that eluded the officials, and yet he still was burned time and again by the sophomore wideout. The final embarrassment came on that fateful play in overtime, putting a fine point on the fact that he was truly incompetent yesterday.

The rest of the team played about as well as one could’ve hoped. Ben had his struggles, but he only turned the ball over once, and was really in a groove by the end of the game.

Isaac Redman would’ve been my MVP had the Steelers won; his big runs in the fourth quarter gave the offense some needed energy after a largely sluggish performance late in the game.

Even the defense deserves credit, despite Taylor’s escapades. Although they lost Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton to injuries in the first quarter, and had LaMarr Woodley coming in and out of the game, they showed flashes of dominance. Troy got caught looking into the backfield on a few plays, but he and Ryan Mundy played decently for most of the game.

Ultimately, the injuries were just too much to overcome for this team. They’ve been battling through them all year, and those early defensive losses, combined with Taylor’s incompetence, were the final straw. Nothing more acutely demonstrated how beat up this team really was than when back up center Doug Legursky snapped the ball over Ben’s head as they drove for a field goal before the first half ended. Had they been able to tack on those three points, the game never would have required overtime.

These are the type of thoughts that will haunt me this offseason. But that’s not to say that this team still didn’t submit one of its guttier seasons in a long time.

Perhaps it’s fair to wonder if this year was cursed from the start, considering the way the first Baltimore game went. And to an extent, I’m relieved I won’t have to deal with the anxiety of an AFC title game in Baltimore that I don’t know that this team could’ve won.

But this team deserves better than what they got. They absolutely should’ve won this game, had their best cornerback not betrayed them at the worst possible time.

Now we have to listen for the next week about how “Tebow did it again,” because we all know that a quarterback that completes only half of his passes is an integral part of the offense. While the Steelers may have suffered the true defeat on the field, don’t we have to ask ourselves- doesn’t another Tebow news cycle mean that we’ve all lost?

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