Opponents have been undressing CB Ike Taylor and the Steelers defense with regularity late in games this season.
(US Presswire)

This is so unlike the Steelers. But then, perhaps it’s time to realize: These aren’t the Steelers of old or even recent vintage.

For the fourth time in just five games this season, Pittsburgh frittered away a fourth-quarter or second-half lead. On Thursday right, they had Tennessee right where the Steelers of yore would have wanted them: trailing in the fourth quarter.

In that situation, the Steelers used to blitz, harry and abuse quarterbacks into mistakes and turnovers. This year, they have lost all three road games after having leads they could’ve protected.

They’ve allowed Matt Hasselbeck to score 10 fourth-quarter points after Carson Palmer tallied 13 and, slightly more understandably, Peyton Manning 10. They allowed a heretofore stalled Chris Johnson to rush for 91 yards where they normally would shut him down, another sign that this defense has lost both its bread and its butter.

They lost for the fourth consecutive time on the road, and fell to 2-3 -- they’ve only made the playoffs once in the six times since 1990 they’ve started out with such a record.

Offense: F

They accumulated 412 yards of offense against the leakiest defense in the NFL, and they managed just two touchdowns. One of those was an 82-yard catch and run by Mike Wallace, who caught one other pass for 12 yards and remains barely visible in a season where he didn’t report in the spring or summer camps. QB Ben Roethlisberger surpassed Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw as the franchise's all-time passing-yardage leader, but he couldn’t drive the Steelers to a cinching fourth-quarter touchdown after a Lawrence Timmons interception gave the offense the ball at the Tennessee 48. He also failed to drive them any further than the Titans’ 35 later, whereupon PK Shaun Suisham missed a 54-yarder, even though he had made a 52-yarder on the previous possession. Because of the defense’s struggles, the Steelers’ success rides on the shoulders of Roethlisberger and the offense. On Thursday -- while losing C Maurkice Pouncey and OT Marcus Gilbert to injuries, the severity of which remains unreported -- the group wilted. When the offense fails, these Steelers will fail. Previous game’s grade: A

Defense: F

They no longer stop the run completely. They no longer scare quarterbacks and come up with late stands. It isn’t due to the philosophy of Hall of Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau or the injuries to star safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), neither of whom was playing up to his accustomed level this season anyway. These Steelers show little character or leadership after the departures of Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Smith and linebacker James Farrior. They show little punch in their front seven, which always was the saving grace for the back end that rarely over the past decade proved stellar defending the pass. They show little ability to create the big takeaway, with Hasselback passes fluttering through the hands of CBs Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor, who, since being toasted on the game-winning touchdown in the Denver playoff last January, has been picked on regularly by opposing quarterbacks. Few can remember the last time the Steelers played four close games so early and failed to shut the door, the offense bailing them out last Sunday against Philadelphia with a game-winning, 6½-minute drive to a field goal. Previous game’s grade: B-

Special teams: D

Suisham wasn’t to blame; he has never made a FG longer than the 52-yarder that gave his team a 23-16 lead with 8:18 left. Punter Drew Butler sustained the first blocked punt of his rookie season, and that set up a key Tennessee touchdown to keep it in the game. And the Titans amassed 140 yards in returns. Who’s the special teams coach around here? Oh, yeah, Mike Tomlin is co-coaching the unit after he fired special-teams coach Al Everest in the preseason. Previous game’s grade: A

Coaching: D
Don’t look past the surface: The Steelers lost to a team whose previous four losses came by three touchdowns or more. The offense gained yardage but never appeared in sync, and didn't find the end zone enough against the NFL’s worst scoring defense at 181 points allowed. In the end, that 54-yard field-goal miss became a 40-yard, game-winning make by Tennessee as time expired. The Steelers are 1-3 in the AFC and 0-3 on the road with their AFC North schedule about to begin, Oct. 21 at Cincinnati. Coaching, talent, execution and moxie will be tested. Previous game’s grade: B+

Follow Steelers reporter Chuck Finder on Twitter @CBSSteelers and @cfinder.