Steelers' win not enough

Monday, January 4, 2010
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The Steelers' slim playoff hopes were dashed Sunday, as a third consecutive victory was not enough to get them into the postseason to defend their Super Bowl title.

"I apologize to the fans for not getting to where we were supposed to get to," wide receiver Hines Ward said after the Steelers held off the Miami Dolphins, 30-24, on Sunday afternoon at Land Shark Stadium to finish 9-7.

Although the Baltimore Ravens' win over Oakland officially ousted the Steelers, a five-game losing streak that included losses to the lowly Chiefs, Raiders and Browns ultimately did Pittsburgh in.

"One win in any of the games that we were leading and we expected to win, and it is a different season for us," free safety Ryan Clark said. "We might be fighting to host a (playoff) game."

Fans Tom and Becky Cleland enjoyed the Steelers' win and felt good about next season.

"It's not the first time it's happened," said Becky Cleland, 41, of the North Side. "We're used to it. There's always next year. It's kind of like being a Pirates fan: There's always next year. This is a sports town, so we're always going to show support for our teams."

"It's kind of hard to understand how it all unfolded," said her husband, Tom Cleland. "They've let everyone off the hook."

The Steelers will turn their attention to an offseason that is sure to bring changes.

Clark, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, running back Willie Parker and kicker Jeff Reed are among the Steelers who will be unrestricted free agents. There are also questions about whether Mike Tomlin will make any changes to a coaching staff that has remained intact since 2007.

The Steelers went into the final week of the regular season needing a win and losses by at least two other teams to avoid missing the playoffs -- something that last happened to a defending Super Bowl champion in 2006, when the Steelers went 8-8 a season after winning the Super Bowl.

In what may be seen as cruel irony or a fitting end to a disappointing season, the Steelers, who had fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses, were victimized by a late collapse -- one that happened far from Miami. Needing a win by New England to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Steelers had to endure the Patriots blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter in a 34-27 loss to the Houston Texans.

"I would rather go out with a win than a loss," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "There was not much we could do, but I am proud of the way we fought."