Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots no longer have to worry about Steelers, who should be done after humiliating home loss to Chargers

Alex Reimer
December 03, 2018 - 10:48 am

It’s far from guaranteed the Patriots will return to the Super Bowl for a third straight season. But we know the Steelers won’t stand in their way.

Just three weeks ago, it looked like the Steelers were positioned to legitimately challenge the Patriots in January for a change. Pittsburgh destroyed the Panthers 52-21 at Heinz Field, unleashing a torrent offensive display that featured five touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Carolina has dropped all three of its game since then, making the victory less impressive, but at the time, the six-win Panthers were an upper-echelon team in the NFC. And the Steelers just toyed with them.

But it all predictably started to fall apart for the Steelers last week, when they lost to the Broncos, thanks in part to Roethlisberger’s two horrid interceptions, including a pick at the goal line that sealed the game. And Instead of taking responsibility for his poor decisions, Roethlisberger blamed his wideouts

The Steelers have a history of collapsing late in the season. Last year around Thanksgiving, Mike Tomlin said he was looking forward to taking on the Patriots in the AFC championship. Whoops. Pittsburgh went on to drop its Week 15 meeting against New England, coincidently thanks to a goal-line pick from Roethlisberger, and lost to the Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round. There was no AFC championship rematch.

While the Steelers haven’t done much chirping about the Patriots this time around, they're still fading. Their 33-30 Sunday night loss to the Chargers, who are playing without star running back Melvin Gordon, was an absolute debacle. The Steelers blew a 23-7 lead, allowing San Diego to outscore them 26-7 in the second half. 

The Chargers’ big difference maker was Keenan Allen, who caught 14 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. Tomlin, purportedly a defensive whiz, stubbornly kept matching up linebackers against Allen in coverage. The Steelers got burned almost every single time.

But bad defensive matchups isn't the reason why the Steelers’ loss was so humiliating. They were destroyed on special teams, with Desmond King returning a punt 73 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to tie the game up. Later in the period, with time expiring, the Steelers were offsides for three consecutive field goal attempts. Mike Badgley, who missed his first shot and saw his second kick get blocked, finally nailed the 29-yard game-winner. 

Thanks to the loss, the 7-4-1 Steelers are now the No. 4 seed in the AFC. Just two weeks ago, they were in competition with the Chiefs for the No. 1 seed. 

If their playoff paths cross with the Patriots, the game will almost certainly take place at Gillette Stadium –– even if Pittsburgh can beat New England at Heinz Field Dec. 16, which it hasn’t done since 2011. 

Good luck.