PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Ben Roethlisberger did everything perfectly. The fake spike that momentarily fooled the Dallas Cowboys. The perfect lob to Antonio Brown that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers the lead and appeared to be the perfect jolt they needed to jumpstart a sagging season.
Only one problem: There was too much time. Far too much. The sense of joy lasted all of 31 seconds, or the time it took the Cowboys to go 75 yards, the final 32 on Ezekiel Elliott’s dash to the end zone that gave Dallas a 35-30 victory and sent Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss.
Soaring in October, the Steelers (4-5) are sinking as Thanksgiving approaches. Not even 408 yards and three touchdowns from Roethlisberger, 154 yards receiving by Brown and 134 total yards and two scores by Le’Veon Bell could prevent another baffling breakdown.
“We are undisciplined and not accountable,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s why they are one of the best in the business and we are not right now.”
Certainly not the way they’re playing, particularly on defense. Twice in the fourth quarter Pittsburgh was one stop away from ending the Cowboys’ seven-game winning streak. And twice the Steelers offered little resistance as Dallas rookies Dak Prescott and Elliott did whatever they wanted, hardly bothered by the largest crowd to watch a Steelers home game in club history.
Two drives. Both 75 yards. Both ending with Elliott racing across the goal line and a series of black-and-gold clad defenders futilely giving chase.
“It sucks losing regardless, but especially in critical moments of the game when they’re getting big plays and you’re trying to do everything you can to stop them,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “This one really stings a lot.”
Expected to be in the thick of the AFC race thanks to one of the most talented offenses in the league, the Steelers aren’t even in first in an underwhelming AFC North. They will head to winless Cleveland next week hoping to end their longest losing streak since dropping the first four games of the 2013 season.
“It’s just unacceptable,” defensive end Cam Heyward said.
Roethlisberger played poorly last week in his return from left knee surgery, a dismal loss in Baltimore, but told his teammates to “follow me” with a chance to prove themselves against the NFL’s hottest team. While there were moments of brilliance, each one appeared to be met with an equally boneheaded step backward.
After Roethlisberger hit Eli Rogers for a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give the Steelers an early 12-3 lead, a pair of Cowboy penalties put Dallas into a first-and-25 hole. No matter. Two plays later Elliott took a screen pass, picked up a couple of blocks and ran 83 yards to put Dallas right back in it.
Bell stretched the ball into the end zone from 1 yard out with 7:51 left to give the Steelers a 24-23 advantage. Dallas went 75 yards in 10 plays, ending with Elliott’s 14-yard dash with 1:55 left.
Roethlisberger calmly took the Steelers right back down the field and channeled his inner Dan Marino with the clock running and the ball at the Dallas 15. The quarterback took the snap and pretended to ground the ball. Instead he held on to it and hit a streaking Brown for a touchdown that again gave Pittsburgh a one-point advantage.
“You take a lead so it feels pretty good,” Roethlisberger said.
Fleeting too. Prescott moved the Cowboys into field goal range helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Steelers rookie safety Sean Davis.
“It was a critical time,” Davis said. “When seconds go by I was just trying to get him down, poke the ball, grab something and he just ducked. Once I felt my fingers in his facemask I let go.”
Control of the game followed suit. Instead of settling for a long field goal attempt, the Cowboys instead kept plowing ahead with Elliott going 32 yards right up the middle for the deciding score.
“We can sit here and say it’s a great learning example, but learning doesn’t get you wins,” Heyward said. “We’re no longer allowed to keep doing that.”
Not if they want to salvage what once looked like a promising year.
The Steelers set an NFL record last year by converting eight 2-point conversions, some of them in nontraditional situations early in the game. They went 0 for 4 on Sunday, chasing points all afternoon after they botched a pair of attempts in the first quarter.
“We want to be aggressive,” Roethlisberger said. “We practice it every day. We need to be better at it.”
Backup linebacker Steven Johnson left in the first quarter with a broken ankle. Backup safety Shamarko Thomas exited with a groin injury.