Bob Smizik: Steelers lose ... it's over

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Everything -- absolutely everything -- broke wrong for the Steelers this afternoon with first and foremost being their terrible performance at Heinz Field, where they lost to the Miami Dolphins, 34-28.

That puts them at 5-8, two games behind the Dolphins (7-6), who own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Dolphins also own the easier finishing schedule.

Additionally:

* The Baltimore Ravens scored two touchdowns in the final 76 seconds to beat Minnesota and solidify their hold on the sixth and final playoff spot. They are 7-6 overall and are 6-4 in the conference compared to 4-5 to the Steelers.

* The Cincinnati Bengals, in first place in the AFC North, flexed their muscles with a 42-28 win over Indianapolis. They remain one game behind New England, which narrowly beat Cleveland, for the No. 2 seed. Rest assured, the Bengals won’t be taking it easy when they come to Heinz Field next week.

* Green Bay kept alive its playoff hopes with a win over Atlanta. If Aaron Rodgers is healthy in two weeks, and he should be, he’ll likely start against the Steelers at Lambeau Field.

In a phrase: It’s over.

If there was a game that epitomized the Steelers' hapless season, it was this one. If there was a single play that is a picture of what went wrong this season, it is this one:

The Steelers led, 28-24, with about three minutes remaining. The Dolphins had a second and 6 from the Steelers’ 12. They needed a touchdown, not a field goal. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed toward the sideline to Charles Clay. Cortez Allen came over to make contact with Clay for what would have been, at best, a short gain. Although Allen did not make the tackle, he basically stood up Clay for the kill from the approaching Troy Polamalu. And the man who was once the most lethal tackler in the NFL could not finish the play. Clay did not go down. He escaped Polamalu’s grasp. He escaped another attempt by Allen and ran in for a touchdown that was the game-winner.

The once-mighty Steelers defense couldn’t make a stop when it had to do so, could not even make a tackle when it had the ball carrier all but wrapped up.

Nothing, not even the bizarre final play of the game, when it looked like the Steelers had scored a tying touchdown -- with the extra point to come -- on a play that involved five laterals could top that. It turns out, Antonio Brown, who ran the last 50 or so yards on that play, had stepped out of bounds on the 13-yard line.

What a sorry performance.

* The Dolphins scored more points than they had all season.

* Tannehill ran 48 yards in the first quarter to set up a Miami field goal.

* Running back Daniel Thomas ran 55 yards in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown.

The Steelers are looking at their first losing season since 2003, when they were 6-10.

There were bright spots. On defense, Cam Heyward continued his breakout season. Jason Worilds continued to make plays, after not making them for more than three seasons. But the defense is badly in need of playmakers.

The entire team is in need of an upgrade. With Ben Roethlisberger and Brown, the offense, at least, has a starting point. The defense needs major rebuilding.


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