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Another week, another ugly win for the Steelers

If you’re wondering what you’re feeling, it’s frustration over the Steelers and their ongoing play that’s so, well, frustrating to watch.

You obviously felt it big time following Pittsburgh’s listless 20-10 loss to the Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium last Sunday afternoon. You’re likely still kind of frustrated right now, even after the Steelers survived Tennessee, 20-16, at Acrisure Stadium on Thursday Night Football.

Frustrated or not, the Steelers did manage to defeat Tennessee to improve to 5-3 on the season. It’s cliched to say that a win is a win, but that’s pretty much all fans have to settle for with this football team.

You sit down and watch every game thinking things will be different this time.

You may have thought that at the beginning of Thursday’s game when Pittsburgh marched the ball down the Titans’ throats on the first possession of the night and took a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Najee Harris. Matt Canada’s scripted plays looked crisp and on point. Quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was wearing a rib-protecting flapjacket, completed a few quick passes during the drive. Allen Robinson caught one. Running back Jaylen Warren picked up decent yardage on another one. Warren also gained some respectable yardage on a running play. Connor Heyward contributed with a catch. Receiver Diontae Johnson had two.

After Harris scored, even Canada, who was calling the plays from the sideline, was super-animated and probably thought, “I scripted those bleeping plays, baby!”

Then, Tennessee took its initial possession and drove 72 yards on a 14-play drive that felt like it would never end. It was helped along quite nicely by defensive penalties–including two by Joey Porter Jr. Heck, the officials threw so many flags on the Titans’ first drive that they decided not to accept a couple of them. Thankfully, the drive ended with a Nick Folk field goal, an outcome that gave you a brief moment to hope that things would finally be different this time.

They were the same.

The Steelers offense gained a total of four yards on six plays on its next two possessions, both ending in punts (obviously), while Tennessee took a 10-7 lead on a short touchdown run by Derrick Henry with 6:35 remaining in the first half.

Even when the Steelers looked like they might take a 14-10 halftime lead, they shot themselves in the foot several times–including a penalty for having too many men on the field on third and goal from the six, followed by Pickett skipping what would have been a touchdown pass to Robinson on third and goal from the 11. (As per Twitter, Heyward may have been coming open on that play and would have made for an easy target had Pickett waited an extra half-second.)

Even when Pittsburgh looked like it might head into the locker room tied at 10, the defense decided to allow a 57-yard field goal drive over the final 1:16 of the second quarter to make it 13-10, visitors, at the half.

Keyword: Frustrating.

If you were watching at home, you may have screamed, “Yes!” when Pickett seemingly found receiver George Pickens for a pretty 12-yard touchdown pass that would have given Pittsburgh the lead with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter. Pickens looked convinced as he started to celebrate. He certainly didn’t look like a receiver who failed to get his second foot down; maybe that’s because he had plenty of time to get his second foot down, and an athlete of his caliber should have had no problem doing so. The officials, who initially called it a touchdown, didn’t even have to wait for the automatic booth review before they got together and decided that, yes, Pickens failed to get his second foot down, even though he actually could have gotten three feet down on that play.

Keyword: Frustrating.

This led to another frustrating field goal by Chris “Thank goodness this isn’t 2018 or 2022” Boswell.

The Titans, repeating a theme from the first half, decided to end their very next possession with a score of their own–a 48-yard field goal by Folk with seconds to go in the third period.

So, the Steelers headed to the final quarter facing a 16-13 deficit, and I certainly couldn’t blame you for saying to yourself, “I can’t believe I thought it would be different this time.”

Thankfully, the Steelers brought their Browns/Ravens/Rams resilience to the final period and ultimately took a 20-16 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to…wait for it…Johnson, who was convinced that he had just scored his first touchdown since 2021 (unlike Pickens, he didn’t have to act).

But then there was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on rookie Broderick Jones, who got the start at right tackle, that ultimately led to the Titans starting their drive at their own 48.

Keyword: Frustrating.

Fortunately, the defense held on downs, and the offense took possession at its own 47 with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Did the Steelers run out the clock? Is the theme of this article centered around frustration?

Hell, Tennessee had all three of its timeouts plus the two-minute warning, and all the Steelers could do was run 22 seconds off the clock before punting the football away.

The game seemed to be salted away, moments later, when Will Levis, the rookie quarterback who spent most of the game looking like a better prospect than Pickett, threw an incomplete pass on fourth and seven. But, wait, there’s more! Porter was called for defensive holding, and the Titans had new life.

Keyword: You know it by now.

Mercifully, linebacker Kwon Alexander did put the game away when he intercepted a Levis pass at the goal line with just seconds remaining.

As frustrating as the game was, imagine your attitude today had the Steelers found a way to lose.

And they almost did.

That’s who these 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are. That’s who they’ve been for quite a while, actually. It’s not going to change anytime soon.

Frustrating or not, the Steelers are 5-3 and in second place in the AFC North.

You’ll take it…along with a jog around the block to get rid of all of that frustration.

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