By Matthew Marczi
What was the worst game that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had in recent memory on special teams in which the opposing team did not score a touchdown? Was it this one? If you said yes, I would not put up much of an argument.
Some of the mistakes were obvious—glaring, even.
Kicker Shaun Suisham, who entered the afternoon coming off a game-winner from beyond 40 and had made his first 14 field goal attempts on the season, missed two field goals from within 40 yards.
Punter Zoltan Mesko booted a pair of punts into the end zone, sent another about 30 yards down the field and out of bounds that kept the Oakland Raiders in Steelers territory, and failed to handle a snap that in part allowed another punt to be tipped.
There were a number of other mistakes throughout the game. On Antonio Brown’s last two punt returns, he lost yardage at a point in the game when both time and field position were critical. Meanwhile, the gunners were getting down the field, but not forcing fair catches, nor tackling.
Worst of all, however, was the sheer inability to take advantage of the Raiders’ own mistakes throughout the game on special teams.
It is easy, and rightfully so, to point to the apparent fumble recovery that was eventually negated after the officials ruled that cornerback Antwon Blake just ever so slightly grazed the ball with a finger on his right hand, believing that it had already touched the runner.
It did not, and because of that gentle caress, the Steelers lost a perfect opportunity to get back into the game. Instead, the Raiders took advantage of the second chance and drove the ball for a touchdown on that drive to make it a 21-3 game.
On the Steelers’ first punt of the game, gunners Blake and Shamarko Thomas failed to bottle up Jacoby Ford, who returned the punt 20 yards across midfield. Robert Golden forced Ford to fumble the ball, but the Steelers were unable to recover it (David Paulson had the best chance) before it went out of bounds.
On the next punt, it was Paulson who allowed the penetration to partially block Mesko’s punt. To make matters worse, it was Golden who then illegally touched the punt, which gave the Raiders the ball on the Steelers’ 26-yard line.
After cutting the lead to three, Shaun Suisham’s onside try was floated right into the arms of Rashad Jennings. Just for a cherry on top, cornerback Cortez Allen drew a holding penalty on the final punt of the game after Brown had already lost four yards on the return, leaving 18 seconds on the clock. The penalty? Half the distance to the goal—at the two-yard line. Wanna get away, Danny Smith?