By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers added to their playoffs missed list during the new millennium after a 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
They did not make the playoffs in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009, to go with 2012, but that means the Steelers are a lock for 2013-14. Right? That has to be of little consolation, about as much as the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
It likely is not consoling, either, to the Steelers fans that the team’s players are just as dejected after another close loss, a recurring theme this season. The Steelers (7-8) have won three games by four points or less and have not lost five games by three points each this season.
“We believe we have a good, quality team here, but in the end you are what your record says you are,” Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said.
“What we coulda, shoulda did, our record told us who we are. The common theme, for us, is the ones that we barely pulled out.
“It was always a fourth-quarter game, and we’ve got to figure out a way to win more of those. I don’t place blame on this or that, because this is a team game, and we all needed to play better. The goal is to have more points in the end, and this year we’ve been too many times on the other side.”
The culpability for this loss is spread far and wide through the Steelers, among coaches and players alike. Even those most ardent Ben Roethlisberger supporters had to be surprised to see him heaving the ball downfield with less than a minute remaining from the Steelers’ 11-yard line.
After a 13-yard completion to Redman moved the ball to the 29, Roethlisberger still dropped back to pass. Two plays later, and he threw his second interception.
Foote was asked if he would have liked to see Roethlisberger take a knee there.
“What I would have liked was for Ben to complete that pass and one more pass so we could kick a field goal and win,” Foote said. “You know, a lot of people are going to point to that, but we were a couple inches away from Mike Wallace catching that last pass. I’ve seen Ben complete that pass a lot over the years, so I’m not going to criticize that. That’s the way we play.
“I’ve got two Super Bowl rings in my house right now, so I won’t criticize that. And we had two timeouts with 24 seconds left, so we were looking to make a play to win the game. And if we would have gone into overtime and lost, they would have asked why we didn’t take a couple shots at the end in regulation. So, it is what it is. And our record, definitely is what it is.”
While it might not appear that way on the surface, since A.J. Green was targeted 18 times and caught 10 passes for 116 yards, the Steelers secondary did a yeoman’s job on the afternoon. Sure, the 21-yard reception that set up the game-winning field goal was his longest on the day, but he was handled more often than not by second-year player Cortez Allen.
Allen was battling a groin injury from two weeks earlier, and he had to sit out last week’s game. Keenan Lewis limped through most of the game due to a bad hip, and Curtis Brown eventually succumbed to an Achilles strain. So, Josh Victorian had to play on the final couple Cincy drives.
“I had some success out there, and I had some plays that I didn’t make,” Allen said. “And that’s kind of how it was all season for this team and especially the secondary. We made some plays, and sometimes we didn’t make enough. But today, it’s extremely difficult to lose a game like this.
“There were times out there when we did enough to help our team win the game, but at the end they made the big play on us today. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do to correct the mistakes that we made, and we have a lot of time to do it now because we’re not going to the playoffs.”
Lewis had primary coverage on Green on that last play, but Allen believed he could have helped some as well.
“If I had a little more depth, I might have been able to help out a little better,” Allen said. “We fought hard as a team and hard as a defense. He’s their go-to guy, so we believed they would go to Green. And he made a better play than we did. He’s a very physical receiver, big, tall, and one of the best in the league, but we needed to be better than that.
“I knew I had to be technically sound and focused, and I had some success against him. I did pretty well early in the game, but they kept throwing his way and eventually a guy like that is going to make some plays. We got some pressure on Dalton, and we were able to cover pretty well, for the most part, but it wasn’t enough in this game. And that’s difficult to take.”
Roethlisberger said he felt disappointment, pain and like he let a lot of people down. “It doesn’t feel good,” he added.
Center Maurkice Pouncey basically summed up the feeling in the locker room after the loss.
“The whole game, we always thought we had a chance, all the way down to the last second,” Pouncey said. “But it didn’t work out for us, and it sucks. Words can’t even explain it. It really sucks.”
Notes: Injuries continued to mount for the Steelers, as running back Baron Batch broke his right arm and will need surgery. … Tight end Heath Miller suffered PCL and MCL injuries to his right knee. It isn’t known if he’ll need surgery. … Pouncey suffered an MCL sprain, but he finished the game. … And wideout Mike Wallace injured a hamstring. … Coach Mike Tomlin said there was a bad snap on Shaun Suisham’s missed 24-yard field goal in the first half.