Kevin Gorman: Steelers will be defined by their response to this loss to Patriots |

Kevin Gorman: Steelers will be defined by their response to this loss to Patriots

Kevin Gorman
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Patriots' Duron Harmon celebrates after pulling in an interception against the Steelers on the last play of the game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James looks at the big screen in disbelief after the Patriots' Duron Harmon grabs an interception to end the game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.

The Steelers spent a third consecutive day dwelling on defeat, something they escaped in the final minute so many times this season no one could comprehend the possibility of an opposite outcome.

Not the Steelers.

Not their fans.

Not this city.

It’s a bad look, Pittsburgh, to continue complaining about the 27-24 loss to New England on Sunday at Heinz Field, as if there is an NFL conspiracy against the Steelers.

I would like to think, after six Super Bowl championships, we’re better than that. But based on the social media reaction since Sunday, I could be wrong.

Everyone is blaming everybody but the Steelers.

Sure, I get they got a nuts-and-bolts job with the reversal of Jesse James’ go-ahead touchdown with 28 seconds left. I’ve watched the replay dozens of times, saw the tight end extend the ball and break the plane of the goal line. This ball-must-survive-the-ground on a catch is a ridiculous rule, and even the review appeared inconclusive.

But it’s not why the Steelers lost, even though officials took what would have been the go-ahead points off the scoreboard.

To borrow Mike Tomlin’s favorite phrase Tuesday, there were myriad reasons.

The Steelers coach is on the NFL’s competition committee and acknowledged Tuesday at his weekly news conference that “all of this needs to be revisited” and said “we’ve got our work cut out for us.” Tomlin also admitted the Steelers didn’t make enough plays to secure victory, which puts him in the minority on that count.

That didn’t stop Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from sharing the same story on the timeout that followed JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 69-yard dash to the New England 10 with 34 seconds left. Both said Roethlisberger was signaling to Tomlin whether he wanted a timeout, and referee Tony Corrente saw it and whistled for one.

So, now it’s not just Corrente’s fault the Steelers had a touchdown reversed, but that they were out of timeouts, too.

How did the Steelers blow an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Patriots?

Let’s start at the end, with the two plays that followed the reversed call: Their fastest player, Darrius Heyward-Bey, was tackled before he could run out of bounds to stop the clock on the next play; and Roethlisberger threw an interception into triple coverage instead of throwing it away and going for a tying field goal.

A suggestion: If you’re going to talk with bravado about going for a victory in regulation, don’t resort to petty complaints about the calls when that strategy fails.

By the way, the Steelers could have settled for how they had won four of their previous five games: a Chris Boswell field goal. In their eight-game win streak, the Steelers had won six times by an average of 3.5 points.

But with a first-round bye and possibly the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs on the line, the Steelers opted not to clock it for a chip shot by their automatic kicker and overtime at home against the reigning Super Bowl champions but rather go for a risky throw into traffic.

Whatever happened to the Steelers pointing fingers only at the man in the mirror? No one wants to mention that, after Stephen Gostkowski’s 46-yard field goal to cut it to 24-19 with 3:56 remaining, the Steelers responded with a three-and-out, that they came up short on third-and-4 with a 3-yard pass to Smith-Schuster and had to punt.

Tomlin also admitted the Steelers were supposed to have double coverage on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the final drive. Instead, Gronkowski took advantage of breakdowns by catching three consecutive passes, for gains of 26, 26 and 17, on their final scoring drive and then the 2-point conversion — all in single coverage.

For all the talk about what went wrong against the Patriots, Tomlin made prominent points about “the detail that’s required to perform in those circumstances” and the importance for the Steelers to learn from their loss before Monday’s game at the Houston Texans. All areas with room for improvement.

“For us, it’s not about what transpired, it’s how do we move on from it?” Tomlin said. “How do we learn from it? How do we better ourselves for the next fight? …

“How we respond to this loss will define us.”

The Steelers need to find a forward focus. No matter how much you complain, the timeout isn’t going to be returned, the ruling on the catch isn’t going to be reversed and the last pass isn’t going to be a touchdown.

If the Steelers don’t stop dwelling on this defeat to the Patriots, there will be no Round 2 rematch in the playoffs.

And that would be the very definition of disappointment.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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