Casey Hampton had a saying for the kind of predicament the Steelers find themselves in today. “This [stuff’s] a wrap,” he once famously uttered, declaring them done for the 2009 season.
The Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs did not evaporate with their 22-20 loss Thursday night in Baltimore, but they were put on life support.
They can win their next four games to finish 9-7 and hope they get help elsewhere to squeeze into the playoffs as the sixth and final seed. That would be similar to the scenario that confronted them in 2005 when, after going 7-5, they won four consecutive to make the playoffs as the sixth seed.
But there is one big difference: They were assured of making it in 2005 if they won the rest of their games; not so this time.
“We’re going to keep fighting right now,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “We’re not going to give up, this team never gives up. This is the type of fight us as an organization always has so we’re going to stay optimistic.”
The Steelers have not experienced consecutive years without making the playoffs since they missed them three times from 1998 through 2000.
Immediately after their loss in Baltimore, they were not willing to consider whether they were done as contenders for 2013.
“Never, never, it’s not even a question,” guard Ramon Foster said. “We have to finish, win every one. End of story right there.”
They may have to, but are they capable of winning every one?
“Very much so,” Foster said. “This is a strong group that’s been through so much already. Finishing is not an option for us.”
With Baltimore now the front-runner for the final wild card at 6-6 and four other AFC teams tied at 5-6, there leaves little doubt the Steelers must win them all and get help.
“We’re going to keep on fighting for one of those playoff spots,” Foster said gamely. “We can’t worry about this game.”
The Steelers did not so much lose Thursday when Emmanuel Sanders dropped the 2-point conversion try with 1:03 to go. They did more so in the first half plus when the Ravens took a 13-0 lead after their first drive of the third quarter.
Even though their no-huddle offense worked so well the past two games, the Steelers waited until the middle of their second possession to use that tactic. They did so only four times in the first half, all in the same drive.
Trailing 13-0, they went to the no-huddle immediately on their first possession of the second half and did so five times on that series, resulting in their first score, an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Sanders.
The Steelers used the no-huddle almost exclusively in the second half — 23 times according to the official play-by-play. Roethlisberger said after the game that maybe he should have asked offensive coordinator Todd Haley to use it earlier. He credited its use for their second-half success.
“Maybe with the no-huddle, going up-tempo, working with coach Haley during timeouts and that sense of urgency, needing to get it done. I thought we did well, but we were a little too late.”
Close encounter review
ESPN reported that the NFL will review Mike Tomlin’s actions for possible discipline on the 73-yard Jacoby Jones kickoff return in which the coach barely stepped onto the field with his back to the play. His actions seemed to slightly impede Jones’s path before Cortez Allen caught him from behind and tackled him at the 27.
“Mike Tomlin stopped us one time,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I took some flack for joking around in the Super Bowl and saying that maybe you should run onto the field and tackle somebody if this guy breaks it. That’s exactly what he just did.
“He was looking at the big screen the whole entire time. He knew where he was, and he knew where Jacoby was. He pulled my move. He did what I thought we should do.”
Tomlin explained that “I always watch the returns on the Jumbotron, it provides a better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”
Penalties that were missed Thursday night:
• When Shaun Suisham moved forward to attempt to kick a 50-yard field goal before the ball was snapped, he should have been flagged for a false start. Instead of losing 12 yards on the aborted play, after Suisham tried to run with the ball, and giving it to Baltimore at its 44, the penalty would have spotted the ball at the 37. Tomlin then could have decided to try to pin the Ravens back on a punt or opt for a 55-yard field goal attempt.
• Le’Veon Bell ran well out of the tackle box around left end when Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith lowered his helmet into Bell’s, helping knock the halfback’s helmet off. Smith should have been penalized for his hit and, indeed, should draw a fine. Instead, it caused Bell a concussion and a lost touchdown. Bell wrote on Twitter that he is OK and “thanks for all your concern.”
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.