Emmanuel Sanders' fumble on the Steelers' last, desperate play in their 20-14 loss to the Browns on Sunday was just icing on the cake.
It was one of those schoolyard plays where time is about to run out, and you need to score, so you might as well try to lateral the ball. When that's the kind of play you're running, a fumble is a natural result. Fine. The cake was already out of the oven. But it was an appropriate ending to a game characterized by turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers. Uh, the football kind. Not the pastry.
There are a couple relevant points here. One is that the Steelers simply don't have much of an offense without Ben Roethlisberger. A hurt Byron Leftwich didn't do much for them last week, and Charlie Batch didn't do much for them against the Browns. Batch was very much part of the problem against the Browns, throwing three interceptions despite passing conservatively for much of the game.
Another point, though, is that the Steelers' defense is good enough that Leftwich or Batch can win without much offense, in a 2000-Trent-Dilfer sort of way, especially against the Browns. But not, obviously, if they can't protect the ball.
Much has been made of the Steelers' running-back-by-committee this year, and the Steelers' decisions on who to use this season have frequently drawn criticism. Sunday's effort against the Browns, though, was a true running-back-by-committee, with all four of the Steelers' backs taking turns fumbling. Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey all had fumbles lost.
Mendenhall's fumble, in the first quarter, led to a Cleveland field goal. Redman's fumble on the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, in the second quarter, led to a Cleveland touchdown. And Rainey's fumble with two-and-a-half minutes nearly shut the door on the Steelers. Rainey was hurt on the play. (Coincidentally, the officials missed a late-fourth-quarter fumble by the Browns late in the fourth quarter on a play that was not reviewable.)
Beyond that, what can one say? That the Steelers desperately need Roethlisberger back? That the Baltimore Ravens effectively have the AFC North sewn up? That the Steelers simply shouldn't be losing to the Browns, however much the Browns might have improved? Sure. But in the end, turnovers cost the Steelers on Sunday, and once a team loses the ball eight times, it doesn't deserve to win.