Those John Elway-like winning drives in the fourth quarter that became so typical of another No. 7 have not vanished this season.
They have dwindled, and, in a season where eight Steelers games were decided by three points, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's batting average of 2 for 7 in the fourth quarter just wasn't good enough.
"In the past, I've prided myself and our team in the fourth-quarter comebacks," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "We've always said you don't want to have them because then you're usually not doing so well early on in the games. But we've always been good at it. This year just wasn't. I don't think there's a rhyme or reason why."
It began in the opener in Denver when, trailing by six points and the ball in his hands, Roethlisberger threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown with two minutes left to give the Broncos a 31-19 victory. It ended with two late interceptions that set up victories by Dallas in overtime and Cincinnati with 14 seconds left.
In between, there were winning fourth-quarter drives by Roethlisberger in a 16-14 victory against Philadelphia and a 24-20 victory against the New York Giants. There also were games in which he could not come through with a score: A 34-31 loss at Oakland, and a 26-23 loss at Tennessee.
His two fourth-quarter drives to victories gives him 29 for his career (including overtime), 26 in the regular season and three in the postseason. He explained it that it was just a year in which he did not do it.
"I don't think there's any reason to go panic. I've been pretty good for eight years doing it. I had one not-so-good year at it. I felt like I played pretty good football, though, other than those situations."
Roethlisberger was having an MVP-like season before injuries to his ribs and right shoulder knocked him out for three games. His passer rating of 95.5 still ranks third in the AFC behind Denver's Peyton Manning (103.7) and New England's Tom Brady (98.3). Roethlisberger limped around the locker room Wednesday on slight but double knee injuries from the game Sunday but did not mention them.
"Obviously, as you progress throughout a season, everyone is a little injured and everyone is a little banged up. Every week, you get a little more banged up. But no excuses from me."
Hampton looks to future
As for other kinds of comebacks, Casey Hampton believes Dick LeBeau will return as defensive coordinator and that he would like to return as his nose tackle for a 13th season.
"I can't see why he would leave," Hampton said of LeBeau, 75. "He said he'd tell us if he was and he hasn't said anything about it so I can't see him leaving."
As for his own return, he said "we'll see."
"I definitely want to continue to play. If it's here, whatever. I definitely want to be here, but it's a business, and I understand that. Whatever happens is going to happen, I don't have any control over that."
Hampton started all 15 games after coming back from his third ACL surgery. His knee was injured in the first quarter of a Jan. 8 playoff game at Denver. He said he started playing better when he felt his knee was fully healed around midseason.
"It took me a little while, no question about it, before I felt really comfortable, but, once I did, I played a lot better."
Miller surgery today
Tight end Heath Miller will have surgery on his right knee today to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. His posterior cruciate ligament also was injured but will heal on its own.
"These types of things happen," said Miller, who appeared in the locker room Wednesday after practice. "It's the nature of the game. It's obviously disappointing to see anyone get hurt."
Miller left the game after blocking on a running play before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. There's some speculation, however, that some of the damage was done on the final play of the first quarter by Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson after Miller caught a 16-yard pass over the middle.
"I'm not sure, it's hard to say," said Miller, who seemed to be agitated after that tackle and explained why. "It's never a comfortable position to be in. It's part of today's game based on the rules, I guess."
Miller could become the first tight end to lead the Steelers in receptions since Eric Green caught 63 in 1993. Miller has 71. He is unsure how long it will take before he can resume playing. Rashard Mendenhall had his ACL torn Jan. 1 and missed the first three games of 2012. Hampton and offensive tackle Max Starks left the playoff game in January at Denver with torn ACLs and started in the 2012 opener.
Steelers sign three
The Steelers placed Miller, Ike Taylor and Baron Batch on injured reserve, ending their seasons with only the game Sunday against Cleveland at Heinz Field left. Like Miller, Batch was injured Sunday and had surgery to repair a broken arm Monday. Taylor missed the past three games with a hairline fracture of his right ankle. He said he should be healthy enough to do his usual off-season workouts.
To fill their roster, the Steelers signed tight end Jamie McCoy, safety Damon Cromartie-Smith and linebacker Marshall McFadden. The latter two were on the team's practice squad and McCoy had been released from the practice squad Nov. 22.
Those who did not practice Wednesday were receiver Mike Wallace (hip), and defensive backs Curtis Brown (ankle), Keenan Lewis (knee) and Troy Polamalu (precaution). Offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle) was limited.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter: @EdBouchette. First Published December 27, 2012 5:00 AM