As it was last year, this looked to be Steelers Nation’s chance to say farewell to a number of Super Bowl veterans. While this symmetries make for a nice narrative, the true story lies in the differences between the Steelers situation now, and that of December 30th 2012.
- First, unlike 2012, the Steelers had a thread-the-needle-on-a-roller coaster chance at making the playoffs.
- The real difference is in the direction the team is heading.
Browns Offer Spirited Fight
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have largely been the NFL’s doormat, save for a burst of competiveness under Butch Davis in 2002 and a tease at in in 2007. But aside from that the Browns have been drafting well, and adding quality players to their roster.
- The wise money in the AFC North has been that at some point the Browns would awaken.
The Steelers opened the game as Ben Roethlisberger directed a drive with machine line efficiency highlighted by a 24 yard pass to Antonio Brown and a 9 yard touchdown strike to Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone.
Cleveland appeared to be putting a similar drive together of its own, when Brett Keisel, in what is probably his final game as a Steeler, stripped Jason Campbell of the ball and Chris Carter recovered. The Steelers could not convert, as Roethlisberger threw an interception. The Browns however could not capitalize on the repossession, when their attempt on 4th and four failed.
The two teams traded three and outs, when the Steelers put together what was to be the definitive drive of the game, and one that perhaps previews what is to come in 2014.
- Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 7 times and gained 41 yards as the Pittsburgh Steelers imposed their will on the Browns.
Saluting to the Past, Turning Towards the Future
CBS provided Steelers Nation with a great shot at the end of the game – Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, and Ryan Clark all seated on the bench together. As mentioned earlier, all three could be gone by next year.
- It is fitting then that those three combined to for 15 total tackles and one of the team’s three sacks.
- …But they didn’t do it alone, which is the important factoid to take out of the game.
Lawrence Timmons was right behind Jones, and was all over the field as he has been all year, getting drive ending sack, tackling people behind the line of scrimmage, and defending a pass.
Cameron Heyward was back to his wrecking crew routine, registering a sack, stopping people for losses, and getting to the quarterback two other times.
Cortez Allen, while not having a perfect day, defended two more passes and had a hand in keeping Josh Gordon below 100 yards.
Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert only allowed one sack – completing one of the all time in-season turnarounds in NFL history.
Steelers 2014 Offseason Now Begins
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the day needing a win. They got it. They needed Baltimore and Miami to lose. Both lost.
But Kansas City’s back ups, with nothing to gain, came close to beating San Diego, but alas they came up short. (Sorry, I did NOT see the runner’s knee down before the ball popped out on the fake punt; his helmet apparently popped off before he crossed the line. Another NFL blunder.)
For the second consecutive year, the Steelers finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs, which is a disappointment in a city that measures success in Super Bowls.
- But this group of Pittsburgh Steelers has ever reason to hang their heads high.
And for that, Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation, and every member of the Steelers organization should be proud.
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