Three teams who were once known for being the ultimate closers on defense gave up 30 points and had trouble getting off of the field Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens each struggled to maintain a lead and stop their opponents in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh and New England lost while Baltimore barely survived.
The Steelers faced an 0-2 Oakland Raiders team that looked terrible in losses to the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Pittsburgh entered the game coming off of a fine defensive performance in which they held the New York Jets to 10 points. In Oakland, outside linebacker James Harrison did not suit up and safety Troy Polamalu missed the game as well. Harrison has yet to play this season due to a knee injury. Polamalu was nursing a leg injury of his own.
It was still expected that the Steelers would win. Very few saw Oakland scoring 34 points or Pittsburgh blowing two 10 point leads. Both happened as the Steelers defense could not stop the Raiders in the second half. Some of it was their own doing while a fumble on offense didn’t help. Still, when a defense like Pittsburgh’s gets a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter the game is usually over.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer engineered two touchdown drives in the second half by shredding the Steelers secondary. He was almost perfect on the drive which led to the game winning field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns only to see Pittsburgh lose at the wire.
Later that night, two teams known for having respectable if not very good defenses met when New England traveled to Baltimore. They had met at the end of last season for the AFC championship. In that game both scored 20 points, but all of them were earned against defenses that gave ground grudgingly.
Sunday night’s game did not resemble the AFC Championship at all. Both the Patriots and Ravens moved up and down the field. If they weren’t gaining the yards themselves penalties helped them extend drives. Midway through the fourth quarter Baltimore’s defense had given up 30 points. The Ravens never give up 30 at home.
Normally this would be enough for New England to win whether at home or away. Not this time.
The Patriots gave up a touchdown with four minutes to play. When their offense was unable to run out the clock they had to give the ball back to Baltimore with just under two minutes left. With the help of a defensive hold and pass interference the Ravens drove into range for a 27 yard Justin Tucker field goal attempt. He barely squeezed it through the uprights as time ran out and Baltimore won 31-30.
This is where the defenses of Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore stand at the moment. Once proud units they are now fighting to keep up with their opponents.
It’s only three weeks into the season. There is plenty of time for each to work out the kinks. They usually do.
Until then, their offenses had better get used to outscoring their opponents and fans had better get used to seeing these defenses get beat.