And so with the Pittsburgh Steelers gutting loss to the New Orleans Saints, through the phantom pass interference, the third-and-two fumble, the fourth-down conversion, the third-and-20 pass, and finally the fumble at end of the game, the team returned home to Heinz Field with their collective tail between their legs.
Not just humbled, but compromised, having lost the opportunity to have a play-in scenario in the finale in which if they won their game, they would be guaranteed a playoff spot. By virtue of their loss and the Baltimore Ravens’ Week 16 win, they needed the Ravens to lose in the finale in addition to winning their own game.
And they only barely managed to take care of their own business. They eked out a 16-13 victory over a Cincinnati Bengals team that was absent five of its most important offensive players and a sampling of its defensive starters as well.
Though that wasn’t without its own controversy. As you already well know, this was the week that Antonio Brown decided to take off in the build-up to the game, which prompted Mike Tomlin to inform him on Sunday when he showed up for work that he would not be playing.
Players knew to some extent what was going on, and some of them admitted after the game that it was on their minds on the field and that it affected their performance. It was similar to the Chicago Bears game from 2017, only this time they actually managed to preserve the win.
Not that it was enough. Though both games kicked off at the same time, the Ravens were still on for several more minutes after the Steelers game ended, trying to fend off a late surge from the Cleveland Browns and rookie first-overall draft pick Baker Mayfield, who would throw three touchdown passes to set a rookie record for touchdown passes in a season.
But it was his last pass in the waning moments of the game, on fourth down, that would be intercepted by C.J. Mosley, and would end the Steelers’ season. It also meant the Ravens’ would be prolonged, and that the Browns would have a losing record, rather than a winning record, so it was a chain reaction for all three teams.
Virtually everybody remained where they were and watched the end. Some players went to the locker room and watched on tvs back there, but most remained on the field and watched with the crowd on the giant screen inside the stadium.
Even though they didn’t get the outcome they needed, it was still a special symbiotic moment between the Steelers and their fans, which I felt was a reminder that through all the drama, and even the on-field struggles, the connection between the team and the city remains unbroken.