The 5 missteps that kept Steelers out of postseason
By Alan Robinson
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013
The side of a foot grazes the sideline. A routine running play is misread. A late comeback falls six yards short because of a fumble.
If just one of these plays goes the Steelers' way, they're preparing today for the playoffs. Instead, they're sitting out the postseason for the second January in a row, the first time that's happened in 13 years.
The Steelers did much right over the second half of a season in which their offense got untracked, they rediscovered their running game and Troy Polamalu began playing again like he was 5 years younger. They went 6-2 and looked, well, like the Steelers are accustomed to looking in November and December.
But slip-ups and missteps and mistakes — plus losses to opponents they admittedly should have beaten — troubled them for a second successive season.
Five plays of 2013 that will forever haunt the Steelers, and make them ponder, as defensive end Cam Heyward said, what “should've, could've, would've” happened to their season.
RED ZONE REDMAN'S FUMBLE. The Steelers cut Jonathan Dwyer, their leading rusher in 2012, during their final roster cutdown to keep Isaac Redman, who they considered to be a superior runner near the goal line. In their season opener, they were given a gift safety on the opening kickoff by Tennessee, and they were in position to take a 9-0 lead before the Titans had the ball. But Redman fumbled on a third-and-1 play from the 6, the Titans recovered, and the tone was set for the day and the Steelers' awful September. And for Redman's season. He was cut after gaining only 12 yards on 10 carries, and the Steelers brought back Dwyer.
PRYOR DECEPTION. The Steelers turned themselves around from their 0-4 start by winning two straight. But on Oakland's first play from scrimmage, Terrelle Pryor — the former Jeannette High School star — faked a handoff to Darren McFadden, and the Steelers' defense, led by safety Ryan Clark, swarmed to the running back. But Pryor kept the ball and raced 93 yards untouched for the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history. The stunned Steelers went on to fall behind 21-3 before being upset in Oakland for a second straight season, 21-18, as Shaun Suisham missed two field goal attempts, the only two he didn't convert all season. Later, the Steelers said Pryor had never kept the ball before on that play, but had always handed off.
STEPPING ACROSS THE LINE. Coach Mike Tomlin had his back to the play as he errantly put a foot on the field just as Baltimore's Jacoby Jones raced by on a 73-yard kickoff return on Thanksgiving night. Tomlin wasn't flagged, and the Ravens won, 22-20, but Tomlin was fined $100,000 and the Steelers are expected to lose a low-round draft pick for his accidental interference.
STEPPING ON THE LINE. The Steelers, down 34-28, were at their 26 with only three seconds remaining Dec. 8 against Miami. They needed a miracle, and almost got it. A succession of five laterals following Ben Roethlisberger's 7-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders left Antonio Brown running downfield, the end zone clearly in sight. But he accidentally grazed the out of bounds line with his left foot at the 12, leaving the Steelers 36 feet away from the second greatest game-ending play in their history. The NFL later said the play would have stood if Brown hadn't touched the line.
OH SO CLOSE. The Steelers, once down 34-17, were attempting to pull off the biggest fourth-quarter rally in their history when they drove to the Vikings' 6 with 19 seconds remaining in London on Sept. 29. But, with time for at least two plays and possibly three, Roethlisberger fumbled, the Vikings recovered and the Steelers lost 34-27 to fall to 0-4 for the first time in 45 years. It would take them an entire season to get back to .500.