By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — This might be little consolation, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still control their own destiny.
Sure, the club’s 22-17 loss to the New York Jets Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field was gut-wrenching and frustrating with several missed calls and missed opportunities on both sides of the line thwarting the Steelers comeback.
However, if the Steelers (10-4) defeat the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Heinz Field and end the regular season with a win at Cleveland, teams with just seven combined wins, they’ll earn the AFC North title with a better division record than the Baltimore Ravens as the tie-breaker.
The Steelers also should gain a first-round bye and second seed in the playoffs.
“There’s no different feeling when you lose,” Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. “It feels terrible, but we realize that we still control our own destiny. We’ve got two games left with a short week this week. Actually, I think the guys might be excited about the short week.
“That gives us a chance to get right back out there. I guess some of the guys would play again tonight if they wanted us to. (Monday’s) probably better, but they’re going to make us wait until Thursday. So, we’ll get in a couple days of practice and try to get back on track for these final two games.”
While Farrior and his fellow linebackers played well, Steelers safety Ryan Clark said the defense lost the game for the Steelers. The club held a 17-10 lead late in the third quarter, but gave up 12 unanswered points for the Jets to secure a victory. The Steelers offense had a long drive fall short as time ran out.
“We didn’t play good enough ball on defense,” Clark said. “Our offense, they moved the ball on those guys. They did their job, but we didn’t on defense. It wasn’t even a game on that side. Our offense moved the ball a long way on them. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the job on defense.
“From here on out, all we’ve got to do is win. We know that. We’ve got two more games, very winnable games against opponents that we match up pretty well against. So, if we play the way that we’re supposed to, it’s still in our hands to win this division. That’s what we’ve always had as our goal this season.”
The Steelers offense had nearly 400 total yards against the No. 3 defense in the NFL, so that’s something to build on. Also, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appears to have developed some rapport with rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Sanders, in particular, has made some plays lately.
Sanders finished with seven catches for 78 yards, but on the final play of the game a Roethlisberger pass apparently aimed at him was knocked away by tight end Matt Spaeth. He was in the area as well and believed the pass was for him.
“It was for me, I believe, but it just so happened that Spaeth was in the same area at the same time,” Sanders said. “Scramble rules were in effect for that play when Ben broke out of the pocket, and we were both going after the ball. Neither of us got it, so I guess it doesn’t matter who it was for.
“And we still can accomplish what we want. Like Potsie (Farrior) said: ‘We’re not going to blink.’ We’re going to move on. We’ve got a game on Thursday. We’ve got to bounce back fast, and we’ve got to win these last two games. We played well, at times, during that last drive, but we didn’t finish it off.
“So, we’ve got to go back in the lab, critique our game and get ready for Carolina,” Sanders added. “It’s a short week, but that’s OK. I think we all want to get back out there. So, we have two big games remaining, with the last one at Cleveland, a division opponent, and we have to win both of them.”
Spaeth didn’t break down, but clearly was disheartened about the final play.
“I had an opportunity to make a play, to be a hero, and unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Spaeth said. “I dropped it. It was a good throw. It’s one of those plays that was a tough one, but I should have caught it. It was a broken play, and once he started to scramble we all moved around.
“It was coming to me, once Ben scrambled, but I couldn’t make the play. I had a chance to catch it and didn’t do it. I guess if you look at a positive from this, it’s that we have to come right back and play on Thursday. So, we can’t dwell on this one. We have to get back at it and win Thursday night.”
And if the Steelers can do that, they’ll control their fate for a division title, and that’s all any team can ask for in the NFL.
Notes: The NFL announced after the game that the Steelers have clinched a playoff berth, based on strength of victory.