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Stunning loss a total team effort

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DENVER —
Some thoughts as I still wonder if I really watched Tim Tebow leave the Steelers’ secondary and season in ruins…

— Even if Ben Roethlisberger had won the game at the end of regulation or if Demaryius Thomas hadn’t owned Ike Taylor, the Steelers weren’t getting past New England.
The Steelers weren’t just an injury-riddled team by the end but also a flawed one.
The defense did not put enough pressure on the quarterback and it did not create enough turnovers to be dominant.
LaMarr Woodley was a shell of the player that owned October after he injured his hamstring –- and that is when he managed to get on the field.
More worrisome is James Harrison’s play.
Take away three-sack games against Baltimore and Cincinnati and Harrison had a pedestrian season. The only Steeler that played worse than the four-time Pro Bowler did against the Broncos was Taylor.
You have to wonder whether he was ever at full strength coming back from a pair of offseason back surgeries, or if teams have figured out how to neutralize Harrison as a pass rusher.

— The offense doesn’t get a pass even though it put together two impressive touchdown drives with the season on the line.
The Steelers outgained the Broncos 119-8 in the first quarter, but they managed just two field goals. The game may have been a lot different had the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 or even 10-0 lead.
And the offense couldn’t get out of its own way in the second quarter, when the Steelers needed points to stay with the Broncos.
The offense was maddeningly inconsistent this season, looking explosive at times but also managing just one touchdown in wins at Kansas City and Cleveland.
The good news for the Steelers is they are bursting with young talent at the skill positions. The question is whether they will be able to harness that talent, something Roethlisberger vowed that the Steelers will do by putting in the necessary work during the offseason.

— Near the top of the Steelers’ offseason to-do list: figuring out why Mike Wallace’s production dropped so precipitously in the second half of the season -– and what that portends for the future.
Wallace caught just three passes for 26 yards against the Broncos, and he was targeted 10 times. That was more than any receiver on either team.
Wallace had a 52-yard catch overturned in the second quarter, and he should have come up with the ball cleanly. But Roethlisberger underthrew Wallace on the play, and the two were not in sync on the deep ball over the last half of the season.
Wallace is a restricted free agent, and if the Steelers are going to make a serious long-term commitment to the speedster it will have to come during the offseason.

— It has basically been all or nothing when it comes to Mike Tomlin and the playoffs.
In four trips to the postseason under Tomlin, the Steelers have either lost in the Wild-Card round or advanced to the Super Bowl.
His latest playoff loss, which dropped Tomlin’s postseason record to 5-3, shouldn’t sit well with the fifth-year coach.
The Steelers didn’t look ready to play, and it is shocking that they didn’t do more on defense to harass, intimidate and confuse Tebow.
A good share of the blame for that has to fall on Dick LeBeau.
He has built a well-deserved reputation as a defensive mastermind by tormenting suspect, inexperienced quarterbacks like Tebow. But LeBeau and the Steelers’ defense had no answer for Tebow -– and they were undisciplined at times in trying to stop the read option — or Thomas.
The latter had three catches that exceeded 50 yards. His longest career reception prior to Sunday had been 47 yards.

— Scott Brown

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