BALTIMORE - The Steelers are now a desperate 5-7 team.
They need to keep playing like one, especially on offense, just like they did in the second half of Thursday night's 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Steelers failed to convert a two-point conversion at the end of their Thanksgiving night game, but they really lost the contest in the first half when their offense played like it had no sense of urgency.
The Ravens came out throwing the ball with two deep passes on their first possession. One of them connected for a 54-yard gain to help put Baltimore up 7-0.
The Ravens attempted three more deep balls in the second quarter, one resulted in a 26-yard interference penalty on the Steelers' Ike Taylor that set up a field goal. Baltimore gained a 10-0 halftime lead, while the Steelers attempted just one official deep pass - an incompletion to Antonio Brown - in the first half.
Deep throws can help keep an opposing defense honest, even if they aren't completed.
"[The play calling] was a coach [Mike] Tomlin, [offensive coordinator] coach Haley decision, and [they] ask me what I think - kind of a brain trust decision,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game. "At times, it was hard to do the things we wanted to do. We did it late, maybe we should have done it earlier. Maybe I should have voiced that more.''
The Ravens attempted three more deep balls in the third quarter to Pittsburgh's one and held a 16-7 advantage heading to the fourth quarter. The Steelers then threw six long-range passes in the final quarter, scored on both of their possessions and nearly sent the game into overtime.
"It was a sense of urgency - a need to get it done,'' Roethlisberger said. "We did well, but it was a little too late.''
The Steelers can't afford another conservative offensive performance like they did in the first half against the Ravens, when they ran Le'Veon Bell into the line on first-and-10, second-and-10 and third-and-12 to start the game. Bell also ran two straight times for 4 yards to start their next possession.
Part of the strategy was to keep the Ravens' pass rush from dominating the game against a Steelers offensive line that was somewhat overmatched to begin with, then started losing some of its players to injuries during the game.
But that's no excuse to go ultraconservative in what was their biggest game of the season. It was almost like they were playing scared.
"I thought we took some chances [late in the game] with a couple of deep balls and got a couple of holding penalties down the field,'' Roethlisberger said. "We had some missed opportunities, some throws I need to make. But that's the way it goes. You're never going to play a perfect game.''
The Steelers need to be perfect in the win-loss column over the next four weeks if they want a chance at the postseason this year. The schedule isn't overbearing - three of the four remaining games are at Heinz Field - but another offensive performance like the first half on Thursday, and the season will be officially finished.
"I don't expect any quit,'' Roethlisberger said. "I know what I'm going to do, I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.''
It isn't necessarily time to "unleash Hell,'' as Tomlin said during the 2009 season, but it is time to take some chances.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.