The Steelers have seen many games end on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger ... big games, championships, a Super Bowl. Sunday, they saw a game and their playoff chances end on another.
For the second time in two games, Roethlisberger threw an interception that doomed his team at the end, leading to Cincinnati's 13-10 victory at Heinz Field that also left no chances for redemption. The loss eliminated the Steelers (7-8) from the playoffs for the second time in four seasons. The Bengals (9-6) clinched their second consecutive playoff spot.
"We did things to give us a chance to win the game, but I blew it," said Roethlisberger.
Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson intercepted Roethlisberger's pass and returned it 10 yards to the Steelers 46 with 14 seconds left in the game. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green to the 25, and on the next play Josh Brown kicked a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left to win it for the Bengals.
On a day in which the Steelers celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, they were eliminated from the playoffs by an immaculate interception.
"I didn't think he was going to throw it," Reggie Nelson said. "But he did and I'm thankful that Reggie was there to take it from him."
It was a stunning end to a game in which defense dominated. Roethlisberger also threw an interception that Leon Hall returned 17 yards in the first quarter for a touchdown. The Bengals offense drove a total of 40 yards to score six points and that was all.
"I feel that we have a lot of really good guys out there on offense, they played well," said Roethlisberger, whose interception in overtime a week earlier set up the Dallas Cowboys for a 27-24 victory. "They need more play and better play from the quarterback."
Losing as they did Sunday has become more a trend for the 2012 Steelers. It was their fifth loss in their past six games and their third in a row at Heinz Field.
"I'm not surprised at all," Isaac Redman said. "Stuff just happened the whole year. It's frustrating. Turnovers at key moments of games have just crushed us all year long."
James Harrison spread the blame among all.
"We have to do a better job as players playing the game, individually and collectively. We have to do a better job as coaches, coaching the game, and putting our players in positions to make plays.
"We have to do a better job as players of playing, and a better job as coaches of coaching."
The only thing left on the line for them Sunday at Heinz Field against Cleveland is to avoid their first losing season since 2003.
"It's disheartening because we had chances as a football team," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Those chances included a 24-yard field goal that Shaun Suisham sent wide to the left after a low snap. He made one from 40 but he also came up short on a 53-yard attempt when both coaches seemed to get a brain freeze late in the game in 40-degree weather.
Suisham's try came with 1:47 left, after Bengals coach Marvin Lewis ordered Brown to try a 56-yard field goal moments earlier. Both misses gave their opponents good field position near the end of the game, but much like the entire game, neither offense could take advantage of it.
Lewis, who made other strange calls Sunday, thanked his players for bailing him out.
"I made decisions to try to win the game," Lewis said. "It kind of backfired on me a little bit."
The Steelers were the ones left holding the empty bag at the end even though they got breaks from the Bengals throughout. The Steelers forced more turnovers (three) and had more sacks (six) than they had all season and still their offense was unable to take advantage of them.
Cortez Allen was involved in them all, two interceptions and one forced fumble. He intercepted a pass in the first half to give the Steelers the ball at the Cincinnati 32. They wound up at the 37 when Roethlisberger was sacked, and were forced to punt.
Roethlisberger had his worst game of the season, his only one with two interceptions and his lowest passer rating, 58.6. He completed 14 of 28 for 220 yards and one touchdown, a 60-yarder to Antonio Brown with 44 seconds left in the first half.
Dalton wasn't much better. He completed 24 of 41 for 278 yards, no touchdowns and a 58.8 rating.
The Steelers rendered the Bengals ground game useless -- 14 yards on 16 carries. Rashard Mendenhall, making his first appearance in a month, led another weak Steelers ground game (95 yards on 31 carries) with 50 yards.
"They were beating us physically some," Tomlin said. "They did a nice job. Neither team ran the ball. It was that type of a football game."
All too familiar for the Steelers. They were eliminated from the playoffs by their signature game, another three-point loss, making it five.
"I don't know if it's typical," Harrison said, "but it's starting to look a little familiar."
Tomlin said there was no thought to try to run out the clock and go into overtime when the Bengals punted to the Steelers, who took over at the 10 with 44 seconds to go. A pass completion and a penalty gave them a first down at the 29. A batted pass left them there with 24 seconds to go.
Roethlisberger scrambled to his right under a heavy rush and tried to throw to Mike Wallace along the sideline -- just as he did in overtime against Dallas -- and Nelson picked it off.
"It just came off my hand high," Roethlisberger said. "And as soon as it left my hand I knew it."
Teammates rushed to his defense for the second week in a row.
"I'm not going to question what No. 7 [has] done," Larry Foote said. "He's out there fighting for us, he's our leader. I have two Super Bowl rings because of that type of play. Everybody remembers Santonio Holmes in the back of the end zone. I'm never going to question the way he plays because he's out there fighting."
There will be one thing they all question this week and into the offseason, however.
"I don't know how we're going to be sitting at home," Harrison said, shaking his head. "It's crazy. Crazy, man."
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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @EdBouchette. First Published December 24, 2012 5:00 AM