It wasn’t far from a year ago when the Pittsburgh Steelers last hosted the New England Patriots at Heinz Field. If the exact same game that took place last year were to have happened today, the Steelers likely would have won. Because it was played under last season’s catch rule and review standard, however, a go-ahead Jesse James touchdown at the last minute was overturned and called an incompletion instead.
The loss cost the Steelers homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and meant that they had to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round for their opening game, the one team during the regular season who clearly outclassed them. They lost to only two other teams, the Patriots game being one of them, and the other was a loss in overtime.
A year on, however, the Steelers aren’t thinking about that game, or that play, and they refuse to act as though it was the difference between them winning a Super Bowl and not. Said James, “if we would’ve been Super Bowl champions we would’ve been Super Bowl champions after that game. We just didn’t have what it takes to make a playoff run. We got beat at our house versus Jacksonville”.
The Steelers were an 11-2 team at the time heading into that game and were in position to grab hold of the number one seed with a victory over the Patriots, with whom they were competing for homefield advantage. Instead, New England won and Pittsburgh wound up as the number two seed. Still with a bye week, but facing the Jaguars instead of a lighter opponent.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—who threw an interception in the end zone following the touchdown being overturned to end the game—similarly had no reaction when asked to reflect on the James would-be score, instead choosing to focus on the game coming up rather than the one they just played.
Added James of the current team, which is 7-5-1 following a three-game losing skid, “we’ve got to prove ourselves this week. If we play the games like we did last week we’re not going to be playing football in January to make that kind of a run. So right now we’ve just got to focus on one week at a time and see where we’re at when December 31st comes”.
The Steelers’ extended losing streak has left them with no margin for error. One loss has the potential to send them out of the playoff picture. The Baltimore Ravens are 7-6 right behind them in the division and with an easier schedule over the final three weeks.
To make matters worse, the race for the sixth seed is intense as well. The Miami Dolphins, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Tennessee Titans are all 7-6 as well. If the Ravens and one of these three other teams manages to win one more game than do the Steelers, then Pittsburgh is going to miss the playoffs.