From Terrible Towel to White Flag

Floyd TD (Justin Aller photo/Getty Images)

Mike Prisuta found plenty of disturbing elements in the Steelers' loss Sunday, but none as disturbing as The Long March.

It goes deeper than dropped passes.

It goes deeper than an attempted lateral hitting a tight end in the backside and a wide receiver whiffing on an attempted recovery in the end zone.

It goes deeper than getting stuffed twice on third-and-1 and once on fourth-and-1.

It goes deeper than calling for an empty set moments after Willie Colon had left the game and the offensive line had been reconfigured.

It goes deeper than getting suckered on a fake punt.

It goes deeper than losing at home to a 4-8 team that had beaten only Kansas City (twice) since it had last been able to win against someone other than the Chiefs on Sept. 16.

It goes deeper than even the head coach either waiving the white flag by for some reason not attempting a two-point conversion when down 18 with 6:07 remaining in regulation.

All of the above aspects of the Chargers stunning the Steelers, 34-24, on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field were components of an absolutely flabbergasting performance.

But what really resonates is The Long March.

Leading 13-3 to start the second half, the Chargers received the ball and proceeded to drive it 78 yards in 17 plays for the touchdown that spun this game completely out of control.

San Diego possessed the football for 9:32 while in the process of shoving it down the Steelers' throats.

And it is that relentless assault on what came in as the NFL's No. 1 defense that confirmed once and for all what these Steelers are not:

Trustable.

Dependable.

Believable.

Ike Taylor's presence on the sideline can't be used as an excuse, even though The Long March ultimately got Curtis Brown stripped of his promotion to nickel corner.

LaMarr Woodley's presence on the sideline next to Taylor, likewise, can't be cited.

"Guess who didn't play last week?" free safety Ryan Clark offered. "LaMarr and Ike."

Ike had played briefly against the Ravens, but you get the point.

That No. 1 defense still had a recently-returned Troy Polamalu and a recently-rejuvenated James Harrison. That No. 1 defense was still operating against an offensive line that had been thrown together from scraps the previous week. And that No. 1 defense was still being asked to cover, among others, an NFL journeyman who had most recently been deemed unworthy by the NFL Disaster in Jacksonville (Michael Spurlock).

That No. 1 defense failed miserably.

Remarkably, the Ravens and Bengals also lost on Sunday, so the Steelers chances of catching Baltimore for the AFC North and holding off Cincinnati for the second AFC Wild Card emerged unaltered.

The same cannot be said for the credibility of the Steelers' No. 1 defense.

Tomlin even called out the unit's staggering ineffectiveness in trying to justify not going for two after a Mike Wallace TD had closed the Steelers to within 34-16 with just over six minutes left, even though a successful conversion there would have made it a two-possession (16-point) game.

"Until we stopped them it was going to be insignificant," Tomlin insisted.

He didn't sound like the coach of the team with the NFL's No. 1 defense right about then.

He sounded like a guy who was out of answers.

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