What's left for the Steelers to salvage from their 2013 season? Technically, they remain in playoff contention because they could win their remaining three games and sneak in at 8-8 if the moon aligns just right with many losses by the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins.
The reality of none of that happening, though, seemed to hit home for them after the Dolphins arrived from sunny Florida to beat the Steelers in their own weather Sunday, 34-28.
At 5-8, the NFL requires them to finish the season by playing the next three games, including Sunday night against hard-charging Cincinnati at Heinz Field. Some might be playing for their jobs, although whatever may happen the next three games might have little effect on the postseason decisions management will make on the status of players and coaches heading into 2014.
"Football players don't play to salvage things," said safety Ryan Clark.
"We enjoy winning. That's what you do. Every time you get an opportunity to win a football game, whether you're 0-12 or 12-0, you want to win it.
"You hate losing, so for us it's about just trying to win a game. We're going to approach it the same way we always do. There's never been a time on the field I thought to myself, 'Oh man, we're 0-4; Oh man, we're 2-6.' While you play, you think about that play, you think about that moment."
If players hate losing so much, perhaps the Steelers avoiding their first losing season under coach Mike Tomlin, and their first since 2003, can serve as motivation.
"No one wants to be considered a loser, so yeah, we would like to avoid a losing season," Clark said. "That's not going to be our rallying cry. We're not going to write songs about it. We're just going to go out here and continue to try to play."
The tale of 2013 has been much like that of 2012, when the Steelers finished 8-8 after a slate full of too many injuries and close losses. The good teams are those that win the close verdicts and overcome the losses.
Take the team that beat the Steelers Sunday. Not only did the Dolphins overcome the weather, they have overcome one of the nastier NFL scandals of the season, the bullying case involving two of their offensive linemen, neither of whom are playing. It's a case that still is being investigated and has prompted no ruling from the NFL, and a fiasco many expected would tear apart the Dolphins and ruin their season.
But the opposite happened, and Miami now is two games in front of the Steelers with three to go.
Dynamic defensive duo
Two high draft picks once considered by many to be borderline busts are playing the best football on defense for the Steelers, and did so again Sunday.
Cam Heyward, moving back from the left to right defensive end for the injured Brett Keisel, led the Steelers with 10 total tackles (seven solo) and had a sack, a quarterback pressure and batted down a pass.
Jason Worilds, who started at left outside linebacker as LaMarr Woodley moved to make his first career start on the right, had two sacks for the second consecutive game to go with three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. He led the team with eight solo tackles. His eight sacks lead the Steelers this season.
"I think it worked out pretty good, me actually playing on the right side for the first time," Woodley said of his flip-flop with Worilds. "I played pretty good. With Jason on the left side, I think we did a good job applying some pressure on the quarterback, but we didn't do a good job of stopping the run and we gave up some big plays."
Woodley had one solo tackle, three total, with no sacks and was not credited with a pressure.
Heyward, Worilds and Woodley are among three players who will be involved in some of the major decisions the Steelers make after the season.
Heyward, their first-round draft choice in 2011, will enter the final year of his contract, a time when the Steelers sometimes enter negotiations to extend their good, young players.
Worilds, a second-round choice in the 2010 draft, will be an unrestricted free agent in March if the Steelers do not re-sign him.
That decision could impact Woodley, who will be 30 next season with an $8 million salary.
Making the grade
How did Mike Adams play in his return to left tackle, where he played so poorly through the first four games that he was benched?
He graded the highest among the offensive linemen Sunday if you subscribe to the ratings provided by Pro Football Focus, which five NFL teams do as well as many agents in the business.
The 3.2 positive grade of Adams not only was the highest, but so, too, was his 1.6 pass-blocking rating. Of Miami's three sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, Pro Football Focus charged two to new center Cody Wallace.
All five starting offensive linemen played all 69 plays on offense Sunday, with guard Ramon Foster getting the second-best grade of the group.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.