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Steelers fail to attain elite status after succession of failures

The good news: The beer bottle was plastic, and all that it hurt were the feelings of the Steelers players.

The bad news: The very fans that Steelers coach Bill Cowher was counting on to help carry his team to a big victory Sunday turned on him at the end of a devastating 30-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. It was a day of boos, stale beer and turnovers, and the Steelers fell to 2-2.

“I’m a little shocked,” linebacker Joey Porter said. “Shocked would be the perfect world on how I’m feeling right now.”

When the Steelers failed to score a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter after getting four shots from the Tennessee 1-yard line, what was left of the crowd of 63,244 either hurled boos or a beer bottle.

If the fans were frustrated, they should know how the Steelers feel. Here is a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations that produced a flurry of bad plays at home:

  • The Steelers couldn’t stop Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who completed all but one of his 16 pass attempts for three touchdowns and 161 yards.

  • They couldn’t score consistently in the red zone (five trips, 13 points).

  • They gave the Titans 16 points on a safety and 60-yard interception return, both by backup linebacker Rocky Boiman, and a 49-yard interception return by cornerback Samari Rolle to the 1 that set up another touchdown.

  • They squandered a 10-0 lead for the second time in three games.

  • They even had a field-goal attempt blocked in the third quarter when the Titans led by only three.

    “It’s a 60-minute ball game,” said wide receiver Hines Ward, who left the game with a concussion. “We have to learn how to play.”

    Porter wasn’t the only Steelers player who was shocked.

    “Look at it,” Porter said, waving an arm around the quiet, nearly empty Steelers locker room after the game. “Players tried to get out of here real fast. I’m the last one in here.”

    The Steelers came into the game hoping to make a statement against one of the best teams in the AFC. Instead, they are left with more questions than answers and what Cowher called “an uphill battle.”

    “You practice hard all week,” Porter said. “You have a big focus on winning this game and you lose.”

    What happened• “Everybody takes their turn making mistakes,” said offensive right tackle Todd Fordham, who had trouble containing Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse (four tackles, one 10-yard sack).

    Porter tried to stay positive by insisting that the defense played well, and it did, in fact, hold the Titans’ running game to 1.8 yards per carry. But even Porter had a hard time selling that concept to himself.

    “We gave up three touchdowns,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t play that good.”

    The Steelers opened up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter by controlling the football and not allowing the Titans a first down through the game’s first 18 minutes.

    Then, Titans wide receiver Justin McCareins caught a Steelers punt on the Pittsburgh 5-yard line. Two plays later, Boiman tackled Maddox in the end zone. Two plays after the ensuing free kick, wide receiver Drew Bennett beat Steelers cornerback Chad Scott to a 42-yard reception that set up Bennett’s 10-yard touchdown pass from McNair.

    The Steelers countered with a Jeff Reed field goal after having first down at the Tennessee 14-yard line. That should have been the first clue that disaster was up next. Rolle’s interception with 1:03 left in the second quarter quickly became a 1-yard scoring flip to Titans tight end Erron Kinney. A 10-0 lead became 16-13 the other way in a matter of nine minutes.

    Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the intended receiver on Rolle’s interception, knows better than anyone how the game was lost.

    “When you give people the football for free,” Burress said. “Teams are going to turn it into points.”


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