MIAMI -- The season of the defending Super Bowl champions has crumbled to dust and, truth is, the Steelers didn't deserve to make the playoffs.
It's an uncomfortable fact for some and an unfathomable one for others. It's a fact certain to anger the team and its followers, but the Steelers earned their spot on the postseason sideline along with NFL puke-dom like Cleveland, Oakland and Detroit.
|More Steelers-Dolphins links|
Everything the Steelers were this season -- at times gutsy, occasionally smart, mostly sloppy and sometimes arrogant -- were on full display in their season-finale against Miami, won by Pittsburgh 30-24 on Sunday.
"How about a little adversity, huh?" Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the Miami game. "That game right there is kind of a snapshot of how it's been for us. I've [said] it quite a few times these past couple of weeks, this is our bed and we've got to lay in it. It was also us who made the best of a bad situation, too. I mean let's be real; there are a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 or whatever and facing the circumstances this team was faced with. They knuckled down and hung together and did the best of their ability to fix it. We won our last three ballgames and gave ourselves a chance. We handled our business here today and did all that we could do coming down here. It wasn't easy, it never is, but I got a great deal of respect for our football team; not only in terms of their closeness, but their willingness to fight."
All of that sounds great but it's only partially accurate. Here's the more complete version.
The Steelers knew entering the contest they needed to beat the Dolphins to have even a slim chance to make the playoffs. Despite being in desperate mode the Steelers almost lost to a Miami team missing its first two quarterbacks.
The mighty Steelers almost lost to Tyler Thigpen.
Tyler freakin' Thigpen.
|Mike Tomlin and the Steelers never displayed a killer instinct during Sunday's win. (AP)|
It started when Miami QB Chad Henne sat out the second half with blurred vision after bruising his left eye following a collision. Henne actually did a solid job of keeping the contest close in the opening half as the Dolphins trailed just 17-10.
Then backup Pat White entered the game and was literally knocked unconscious on a helmet-to-helmet hit by cornerback Ike Taylor.
White was knocked out almost instantly. There was an eight-minute delay as White was taken off the field on a mobile cart. White was moving all of his extremities and a source close to the situation speculated White suffered from a severe concussion.
"Right now all we know is he's at the hospital and they're running some other tests," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "At this time, the information that we have is that he's doing OK."
"Pat got knocked pretty good there on the sideline trying to make a play," Miami's Jason Taylor said. "It's one of those things that really puts the game in perspective sometimes. See a guy laying there stiff and not moving, and you can't really do anything to help him. It's a bad feeling."
This was the point where the old Steelers, the Super Bowl champs from last year, would've taken Tyler Thigpen or Yancey Thigpen or Pig-Pen Pig-Pen over their knee and utterly destroyed the Dolphins.
Instead, Thigpen led the Dolphins on two touchdown drives on his first two series, making the score 27-24 in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger -- who looked like his throwing arm was injured for much of the second half (he kept grabbing at it between plays) -- fumbled the football and it was recovered by Miami at the Pittsburgh 13. Thigpen was intercepted in the next series and that sealed the Pittsburgh win.
Just the fact the Steelers were in position to lose to Thigpen says volumes about what's happened to the Steelers in their year as defending champs.
Tomlin was asked if this season was a failure. "Yeah," he sarcastically responded, "along with 30 other teams that don't hoist the Lombardi."
If the Steelers had made the playoffs the year would've been a success but not making the playoffs does make it a wasted season.
Last year, their heart and precision earned them a championship. This season, the Steelers' imprecision doomed them and as a result the defending champions will be watching the playoffs just like the rest of us.