PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have officially clinched a first-round spot on the couch thanks to a season of miscues -- particularly clown car-ish in their ridiculousness late in the year.
And Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was a microcosm of their season.
Pitchers and catchers report soon, Pittsburgh sports fans. So, there's that.
"Disappointment, pain, letting a lot of people down," Ben Roethlisberger said about not making the playoffs, "and it doesn't feel good."
This one was particularly stinging for the Steelers, coming against division rival Cincinnati in what was essentially a playoff game before a jacked home crowd piped on all things Immaculate. A win and the Steelers controlled their destiny. Instead, the Bengals make the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1981 and '82 with their first win vs. division bullies Pittsburgh and Baltimore in seven tries going back to the beginning of last year.
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This game was as much about the Steelers choking and gasping and coughing as it was the Bengals being playoff-bound.
Pick your Steelers mistakes. It could be the Roethlisberger interception with 14 seconds left that handed Cincinnati the win. They converted it into a winning 43-yard field goal. It could be Pittsburgh's offense failing to take advantage of two Andy Dalton interceptions (and great Steelers defensive play overall). Or it could be the two Roethlisberger picks.
When asked about the final interception, Roethlisberger said: "There is nothing to talk about. You saw it, I threw it to them."
"I didn't think he was going to throw it," Bengals corner Leon Hall said.
"It seems like when you get pressure and rattle him early he tends to overthrow balls," Bengals defensive lineman Domata Peko said.
Another of those critical Steelers errors came on third-and-short in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall took a handoff from Roethlisberger and started forward through what looked like a nice-sized hole. Then, for some reason, he hesitated. That brief trepidation led to Cincinnati's defense swarming Mendenhall and forcing him backward. No first down.
Roethlisberger was furious. He walked off the field and up to No. 2 QB Charlie Batch. "He had it!" Roethlisberger yelled. Batch nodded his head in agreement. Roethlisberger approached backup thrower Byron Leftwich and said the same. Same nodding in return.
Had Mendenhall picked up the first, the Steelers might have been able to turn that series into a touchdown and the day could have evolved much differently.
But that play has been the Pittsburgh offense all season. There's a geek-asking-out-the-cheerleader awkwardness we haven't seen much of during the Mike Tomlin era. This might not be the worst offense of Tomlin's tenure and the inability to do simple blocking and play execution is pretty damn bad.
Timing is off. Blocks are off. Routes aren't crisp. The backs are terrible. Nothing goes smoothly, efficiently, swimmingly. Just doing the basic has been a massive struggle for Pittsburgh.
One series after Mendenhall's timid run, Roethlisberger was crunched high and low by two Bengals players, ending in a familiar scene: Roethlisberger limping off the field.
Perhaps most shocking is the Steelers lost despite the Bengals' coaches making some of the worst calls a staff has made this season. It included going for 56-yard field goal, when Cincinnati could have pinned the Steelers deep late in the game, and a ridiculously horrid deep pass on third-and-1 again late in the contest.
That last call so infuriated Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham that he screamed at Bengals coaches as he walked off the field and continued to scream at them once he reached the sideline.
In the end, of all the issues the Steelers faced, Roethlisberger was the biggest problem. Watching him both in warmups and throughout the game, something looked wrong physically. Now, Roethlisberger always plays like something is wrong physically, and he's likely still hurting from a dangerous rib injury, but it seems like something was particularly problematic with his throwing motion.
He completed only 14 of 28 for 220 yards and 58.6 passer rating. More important, this was the second consecutive game where Roethlisberger threw a horrible interception that cost Pittsburgh the game. He started the game throwing a pick-six and ended it with another critical interception.
After the game, on the field and in the locker room, players were hugging each other. It seemed like the team was saying goodbye despite having one more game to play. If Pittsburgh wins, it will finish 8-8.
"Nobody is saying goodbye," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "It's the end of our chance to win the Super Bowl. We hug all the time. We have to be the hugging-est team in football. So don't read too much into us being affectionate."
Time to study up on those Pirates rosters, Pittsburgh fans.