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Steelers unable to splash their way out of yet another soggy performance on Sunday

As the Steelers battled it out against the Jaguars in the slop and rain on Sunday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium, you just kept waiting for someone–mainly T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith–to don the red cape–or, in this case, the Aquaman suit–and make a splash play.

After all, that had been the Steelers’ M.O. through the first six games of the 2023 regular season; they’d be grossly outplayed for most of the day, only to win it in dramatic fashion, thanks to a huge play or two by someone. Even if Pittsburgh couldn’t come up with a splash play over the first three quarters, the defense simply needed to keep it close; if so, then it was only a matter of time before Kenny Pickett’s clutch gene clicked on, and he’d make a few key throws in the final period and will his team to another improbable victory.

I don’t know about you, but I expected it on Sunday afternoon, even if the Steelers again fell behind 6-0 in the first quarter on two Brandon McManus field goals. True, the Steelers’ offense was lifeless and listless, once more, and didn’t pick up its initial first down until almost midway through the second quarter, but we were used to that kind of thing from the offense, right? Sure, Matt Canada’s unit could only generate punts on its first four drives, but the defense was keeping it close. No, there weren’t really any splash plays during the first half, and the Jaguars’ offense wasn’t necessarily being stifled, but there were two takeaways–including a fumble recovery by linebacker Cole Holcomb at the Pittsburgh 29 that ended one Jaguars series and an interception by safety Damontae Kazee in the end zone that ended the next series. Yes, Kazee made the mistake of trying to return the interception and stepping out at the two, but, hey, this led to the Steelers’ first sustained drive of the day. And after quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with receiver Diontae Johnson on a pass to make it first and goal at the Jacksonville eight, you just had to be thinking, “Will you walk into my parlor?” Unfortunately, Pickett later missed a wide-open Johnson on third and goal. Fear not, because Chris Boswell’s field goal brought the home team to within three points.

It was a six-point deficit at the half, but it would have been three if not for a very puzzling offsides call that wiped out a 55-yard field goal by Boswell. What the bleep was wrong with the officials on Sunday? There were plenty of questionable penalties–and non-penalties–that went Jacksonville’s way, but at least the game was ugly and still winnable, which was what head coach Mike Tomlin probably wanted going into the day.

Sadly, both Pickett and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick were lost in the first half with injuries, but someone was going to step up and make a splash play over the final 30 minutes, right? It was only a matter of time before Watt and/or Highsmith stripped Trevor Lawrence of the football and either rumbled for paydirt or set the offense up with premium field position.

In the meantime, there was a second fumble recovery–this time by safety Keanu Neal–at Pittsburgh’s 36 that thwarted another Jaguars drive.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky wasn’t really doing much in Pickett’s absence, but the game was still there for the winning. That is until Jacksonville extended its lead to 17-3 on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to running back Travis Etienne, followed by a successful two-point try on a run by Etienne.

So, while you were waiting for Pittsburgh to make a splash play, it was the Jaguars who made one of their own. The game felt out of reach, that is until moments later when Trubisky connected with receiver George Pickens for a spectacular 22-yard touchdown catch, run, jump and run to make it 17-10 late in the third period.

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the Steelers to the Jags.

The Jaguars never did accept Pittsburgh’s invitation to lose a game they should have won. Instead, Trubisky threw a horrible interception, Jacksonville extended its lead to 10 on another McManus field goal, and that was it: 20-10, visitors.

There were no splash plays for the Steelers on Sunday, even if the game felt an awful lot like the win over Cleveland in Week 2 and also the victory over Baltimore in Week 5.

Instead, Pittsburgh spent the majority of the day looking like the inferior team, which has been a familiar sight so far in 2023. The Steelers again had no answers on offense and could only muster 261 yards on the day. As for the defense, it did okay, but it certainly didn’t look dominant.

You can blame the officials all you want, but they had nothing to do with Pickett missing a wide-open Johnson in the first half. The officials also had nothing to do with Trubisky’s interception in the fourth quarter after he attempted a pass into triple coverage.

The officials also had nothing to do with the Steelers once again playing like a team that had no real game plan other than to keep it close and hope for the best at the end.

The Steelers were soggy on Sunday–as they have been all season. The fact that they couldn’t splash their way out of their mess was nobody’s fault but their own.


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