To play for a team where the Super Bowl is the standard requires a level of confidence bordering arrogance, and that’s about the only department where your Pittsburgh Steelers have no shortcomings.
The Steelers talk about qualifying for the playoffs as if it’s a sure thing, as if the season only serves to set their seeding. They talk about their 7-5-1 record as if it’s an accomplishment, never mind that they have beaten only one team (Baltimore) with a winning record.
The Steelers stink.
That’s the sad truth, even if their 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders didn’t affect their playoff standing. They still have a half-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North, still are positioned for the fourth seed in the conference because the Patriots, Texans and Ravens all lost. The uneven AFC could be the Steelers’ salvation.
That the Steelers lost to a team in full-blown rebuild after trading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for draft picks should have served notice that they stink. But the Steelers sounded as stunned about the outcome as anyone, and their reaction to losing to a two-win team this late in the season was a sign that they don’t recognize their own arrogance.
“Redemption Sunday is coming,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “and we better be prepared for it as it is every Sunday.”
The Steelers showed few redeeming qualities on Sunday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum that would give you the impression that they can beat New England or New Orleans in the next two weeks, let alone Cincinnati in what could be a do-or-die season finale.
“It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “If we want to be in the playoffs, we’ve got to win these three damn games, simple as that.”
Arrogance in abundance: It can be argued that arrogance simply cost the Steelers this game. They arrogantly believed they could thrive this season without Le’Veon Bell, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and were ill-prepared to deal with an injury to James Conner. They arrogantly believed they could overcome Conner’s sprained ankle and beat the Raiders with an unproven rookie in Jaylen Samuels and an ineffective Stevan Ridley, who combined for 32 rushing yards on 16 carries.
The Steelers arrogantly believed they could beat the Raiders without Ben Roethlisberger in the second half, the only logical explanation for Tomlin leaving Josh Dobbs in the game after Big Ben returned to the sidelines from a rib injury and stood idle for two series.
The Steelers arrogantly believed they could stop Derek Carr, even as he completed 25 of 34 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, even after Mike Hilton and Sean Davis proved that the Steelers can’t even pick off passes that hit them in the hands.
The Steelers arrogantly believed they could win another close game, despite the tie at Cleveland and the five-point loss to the Chiefs and the seven-point loss at Denver and the three-point loss to the Chargers. They arrogantly believed they could tie the game with a field goal, even as Chris Boswell missed a 39-yard field goal and nearly botched a PAT.
That Boswell slipped and fell on what should have been a chip shot was symbolic of the Steelers this season. They couldn’t capitalize against a bad team, as they were outgained by the Raiders (354-340) even though Oakland was penalized 13 times for 130 yards.
“We’re going to continue to work,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to absorb the negativity that comes with our current position. We understand that we created it. It’s our job to fix it.”
Sleepwalking team: That’s part of the problem, too. The Steelers arrogantly believe that their repeated shortcomings are the result of correctable mistakes instead of one that All-Pro right guard David DeCastro said has been sleepwalking.
The Steelers haven’t beaten any true Super Bowl contenders this season, and they haven’t beaten many teams with wins against anyone of consequence: Tampa Bay (5-8) beat New Orleans, and Jacksonville (4-9) beat New England.
Even so, the Steelers arrogantly believe that they are the same team that won five games by three points or less last season instead of the team that lost in overtime at Chicago and at home against New England and twice to Jacksonville, including a playoff game at Heinz Field.
“It’s hard to tell, man,” Hilton said. “We’ve got a lot of the same guys. We’ve just got to find ways to finish games. Once we do that, who knows how things can turn out?”
Oh, everybody paying close attention already knows.
That the Steelers are showing ignorance to their arrogance is their greatest shortcoming in a season of them. This is a team that believes redemption is coming but doesn’t appear prepared, looking less like a playoff team and more like a bottom feeder that continues to come up short in games that had no business being so close.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.