What is Steeler football? Well, lately, one aspect of it seems to be getting big leads and then torturing Steelers fans at the end of games

by Anthony Defeo on Nov 10, 2010 2:39 PM EST

It used to be if the Steelers had a pretty significant second half lead (for the sake of this post, 10 points or more) they would usually close out the game pretty easily. That's not to say that there weren't some blown leads and pretty crazy finishes like the one the other night in Cincinnati, but they weren't as common as they have become over the past two seasons.

It all started in Super Bowl XLIII.

If you remember back to the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers had what appeared to be a pretty safe, 20-7, lead against the Arizona Cardinals. Even though Arizona had a dangerous offense with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin, Pittsburgh's legendary 2008 defense had held Arizona in check for the first three quarters. Steeler Nation was dreaming of the six-pack. It was just a matter of 15 minutes before the celebration could begin. However, instead of the defense continuing their domination, they started to self-destruct. Warner found his groove and Ike Taylor suddenly was unable to cover Fitzgerald after shadowing him for most of the game. Midway through the 4th quarter, the Cardinals made a game of it when Warner hit Fitzgerald for a touchdown pass. And that's when the real fun began. Later in the 4th quarter, after making Arizona punt, James Harrison was called for a 15 yard personal foul penalty after committing assault and battery on an unnamed Cardinal player. The subsequent poor field-position helped lead to a safety when Justin Hartwig was called for holding in the endzone, and the Cardinals only trailed, 20-16. And just two plays after the free kick, Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 63 yard touchdown catch and run that left Steeler nation in stunned disbelief and made the Bettis fumble seem like child's play by comparison. The Cardinals led, 23-20, with 2:37 left. But thanks to the heroics of Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes, the Steelers came back and defeated the Cardinals in the final minute to earn that "One for the Other Index finger" and Pittsburgh did get to celebrate.

Nobody thought much of that 4th quarter collapse. After all, the Steelers defense was pretty dominant all-year long. I, personally, figured it was just a hiccup.

However, since Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers have had 14 leads of 10 or more points in the second half of games, and in ten of those games, they saw their leads melt-away and either had to hang on for dear-life or lost in dramatic fashion.

Week three of the 2009 season, the Steelers led the Bengals, 20-9, in the 4th quarter only to see the Bengals score two touchdowns, including the game winner in the final seconds. The Steelers lost, 23-20, and dropped to 1-2.

A week later on a Sunday night at Heinz Field, the Steelers led the Chargers, 28-7, heading into the 4th quarter, before San Diego scored 21 4th quarter points. But Pittsburgh avoided a total meltdown and won, 38-28.

One week after that, the Steelers were in Detroit and led the hapless Lions, 28-13, in the 4th quarter, but needed a last minute defensive stand to keep the Lions from tying the game, and held onto win, 28-20.

Week seven of 2009, after a hard-fought game between the Steelers and Vikings, Pittsburgh appeared to seize control once and for all after Lamarr Woodley returned a Brett Favre fumble for a touchdown midway through the final period to put the Steelers ahead, 20-10. However, Percy Harvin returned the ensuing kickoff all the way for a touchdown to make it 20-17. And late in the 4th quarter, the Vikings were poised to take the lead, or at the very least tie the game with a field goal, but the Steelers were rescued by Keyaron Fox's pick six off of a botched screen pass and Pittsburgh won, 27-17.

Fast-forward to week ten of last season, the Steelers were in Kansas City to play the Chiefs. After giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, Pittsburgh was in total control, 17-7. They were driving for more at the start of the 3rd quarter. That's when Heath Miller, of all people, let a perfectly thrown pass clang off his hands and sail straight up in the air like a volleyball set and was intercepted. The Chiefs not only got back in the game, but they eventually tied the score and won in overtime.

Week 14 of the 2009 season, the 6-7 Steelers were on a five game losing streak and badly needed a win over Green Bay at Heinz field to keep alive what little hope they had at the postseason. There they were in the 4th quarter with the season on the line and a 24-14 lead. That's when Aaron Rodgers and the potent Packers offense came to life and scored 22 points. If it wasn't for a last second Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace touchdown pass, the Steelers would have been on a six-game losing streak.

One week later, the Steelers playoff chances were slightly better as they faced off against the hated Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh led, 20-10, at the start of the 3rd quarter, but couldn't hold the lead and the Ravens quickly tied the game. But with the help of a holding call that negated a Ravens touchdown pass, and a Jeff Reed field goal, the Steelers were able to pull out a 23-20 victory.

The final week of the 2009 season had Pittsburgh in Miami. The Steelers needed the win to stay alive for the playoffs. They were ahead, 27-10, in the 4th quarter, but gave up two quick touchdowns and had to hold on for dear life to win, 30-24.

But the late game struggles weren't unique to last season.

Week two of this season in Tennessee. The Steelers defense had totally dominated Vince Young, Cris Johnson and the rest of the Titans' offense. Pittsburgh was ahead, 19-3, in the 4th quarter. Tennessee went on a time-consuming drive and scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to close the gap to 19-11. That in and of itself was okay. The Titans had used up so much time that all Pittsburgh needed to do was cover the onside kick and the game would be over. But they didn't recover the onside kick. Tennessee did, and came within a heartbeat of tying the game in the final seconds.

And that brings us back to this past Monday night in Cincinnati. If ever there was a microcosm of the team's recent struggles with big leads late in games, the Steelers 27-21, white knuckle victory over the Bengals was it.

Just like Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers led, 20-7, after three quarters and had totally dominated the Bengals in every phase of the game. Cincinnati's only touchdown was set up by a Hines Ward turnover, but otherwise, the Steeler defense had its way with Carson Palmer, TO, and Ochocinco. And unlike Super Bowl XLIII, Pittsburgh actually extended their lead to 27-7 on an Antwaan Randle El touchdown pass to Mike Wallace at the beginning of the 4th quarter. I let out a sigh of relief at that point and had Pittsburgh's 6th victory penciled in.

Well I'll be ****ed if they didn't self-destruct again. Even with Ochocinco pouting on the sideline, the Bengals moved the ball with ease on their next possession and the score was 27-14.

I was kind of nervous at that point, but when Roethlisberger scrambled for a big first down, I felt a lot better. However, just two plays later, Big Ben threw a Favre-like interception, and thanks to a personal foul on Flozell Adams after the pick, Cincinnati had possession inside the Steeler 40. Just a few plays after that, Ike Taylor was called for pass interference in the endzone and the Bengals had it first and goal from the one. Cedric Benson scored, and just like that, Cincinnati was only six points down with a lot of time left.

At that point, I was in panic mode. But, the Steelers patch-work offensive line put on a run-blocking clinic, as Rashard Mendenhall carried six straight times. Pittsburgh's offense not only milked a lot of clock, but set Jeff Reed up for a 46 yard field goal. No gimme, but Reed made a 53 yarder at the end of the first half. If he could knock this one thru the uprights, I could breathe easy. But wouldn't you know it, he missed it to the left and the Bengals had life with 3:59 remaining. Cincinnati drove downfield almost at will and found themselves on Pittsburgh's doorstep with a chance to win in the final seconds, just like last year. I didn't think they were going to stop the Bengals, to be honest. But on 4th and 5 from the 12, Palmer hit Jordan Shipley with a pass over the middle and he looked to have a catch for a first down. Thankfully, the Steelers defenders dislodged the ball before he could secure the reception and Pittsburgh had escaped with another narrow victory after dominating for so much of the contest.

So what is it about these Steelers and their inability to put teams away?
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