Tight end Heath Miller had no plans to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the San Diego Chargers Sunday evening in a game that would determine if the Steelers reported to work today to get ready for a wild-card playoff game this weekend or started preparations for next season.
"It's been a long time since I've been able to watch a football game in my house," Miller said, grinning.
Two young children make that tough. Here's hoping, for Miller's sake, that sons Chase and Jake were especially rambunctious and distracting on this particular night, especially around 7 p.m. That's when Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a late 41-yard field goal that would have beaten San Diego and sent the Steelers into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The Chargers ended up grabbing that final spot by winning in overtime, 27-24.
It's on to next season for the Steelers, not on to Cincinnati to play the Bengals.
Please, don't put this on Succop.
"We only have to look in the mirror to find the blame," Miller said.
"That bed was made a long time ago," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
He's right, too.
"It's nobody's fault but ours," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
That made it 3 for 3.
The Steelers did their part Sunday to try to sneak into the playoffs with an 8-8 record, beating a lousy Cleveland Browns team, 20-7, at Heinz Field. They also got surprising help in the early games when the New York Jets stunned the Miami Dolphins in Miami and the Bengals eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens. But the Steelers needed Kansas City to beat San Diego. The Chiefs, who came in locked as the No. 5 playoff seed, rested their stars, including quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles. They led, 24-14, in the fourth quarter but couldn't quite finish the job.
"Somebody should tell [Kansas City] coach Andy Reid that it's good to go into the playoffs on a winning streak," Miller said. "But Kansas City doesn't owe us anything. We did this to ourselves."
Miller said he had no plans to look back to the Steelers' 0-4 start when they had 11 turnovers and no takeaways and think about what might have been. He said he won't replay the hurtful losses to Tennessee, Minnesota, Oakland and Miami in his mind and wonder how different things could have been with just one more win, a play here or a play there.
"It's too late for that," Miller said. "That doesn't help us now."
It's unfortunate because the Steelers finished the season playing their best football. They took down the Bengals, the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers and the Browns in their final three games.
The strong finish was enough to make you think that a repeat of the 2005 season was possible. The Steelers had to win their final four games to make the playoffs as the sixth seed. They won the wild-card game in Cincinnati, shocked Peyton Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis, won the AFC championship in Denver and beat Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
"It doesn't matter who we would play in the playoffs, we feel like we'd go in and get a 'W,' " Miller said of this Steelers team. "No question about it."
The Steelers averaged 28.2 points in the final nine games. Roethlisberger, who took every snap, broke his franchise season record with 375 completions and nearly broke another with 4,261 passing yards. Team MVP Antonio Brown had nine catches for 87 yards against the Browns and became the first player in NFL history to have at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in every game. Running back Le'Veon Bell ran for 90 yards and caught one pass for 6 yards against the Browns to finish with 1,259 yards from scrimmage, breaking Franco Harris' franchise rookie record.
The Steelers' young offensive linemen got valuable experience and should be better next season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost for the season with a knee injury on the eighth play of the first game against Tennessee, will be back. Roethlisberger was sacked just seven times in the final seven games after being sacked 36 times in the first nine.
"I feel like we are a team that is on the rise," Roethlisberger said.
The defense did not finish as well, although it held the Browns to just one late fourth-quarter touchdown. There will be plenty of change for the third consecutive year. Ryan Clark and Brett Keisel aren't expected back. Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley might not return unless they take big pay cuts. Jason Worilds and Ziggy Hood could leave as free agents.
It's going to be another fascinating offseason.
Not that anyone in the Steelers locker room was interested in looking that far ahead.
Miller offered some final thoughts on this season, especially the 6-2 record in the second half.
"I think the way we finished should show that we believe in each other. When things aren't going well, it's easy to point fingers. But we didn't do that. We stuck together. That's a credit to the guys in this room."
Miller said the Steelers learned a valuable, if painful lesson.
"Yeah ... Don't start 0-4."
Sadly, right again.
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