Steelers squander opportunity for home field
Clinching a playoff spot while flying to San Francisco was the only highlight of the Steelers' cross-country trip.
A 20-3 loss to the 49ers on Monday dropped the Steelers into a first-place tie atop the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens, who own the tiebreaker.
"It's a little frustrating, but we've still got two more games," Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
If Baltimore wins its final two games, it captures the division title and leaves the Steelers with an unenviable path to the Super Bowl. The Steelers would do no better than the No. 5 seed, and they would play on the road in the first weekend of the postseason.
"We did have an opportunity to get (sole possession of) first place in the division, and we didn't do that," free safety Ryan Clark said. "We came to the West Coast and got our butts whipped, plain and simple. A team played better than we did, and you have to live with that. We have to fight for playoff positioning. The show goes on."
Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday said he wasn't thrilled with the officiating, especially the leaping infraction called on Lawrence Timmons during a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt.
Timmons was called for using another player for leverage while trying to block David Akers' 28-yard field goal with 9:19 left. Two plays later, Frank Gore scored from five yards to make it 20-3.
Tomlin said he got an explanation for the call but, "I didn't get one that I was satisfied with."
Tomlin also didn't agree with a third-quarter call on Keenan Lewis for not allowing Kyle Williams to cleanly field a punt. Lewis recovered the fumble inside the 20-yard line.
"Another one that was questionable in my eyes, but not a reason we lost the game," Tomlin said.
Tomlin ended his weekly news conference after another question about penalties.
"Guys, I am not going to complain about the officiating or the penalties," he said. "We lost that game because we didn't execute well enough to win it."
Running back Mewelde Moore suffered an MCL sprain and won't play against the St. Louis Rams, but Rashard Mendenhall likely will be fine despite hurting his rib, Tomlin said.
Linebacker Chris Carter, center Maurkice Pouncey and receiver Emmanuel Sanders could return to action this week, and Tomlin thinks Woodley (hamstring) will be ready to play Saturday despite leaving Monday's game because of fatigue.
Given Moore's injury, rookie running back John Clay could be promoted from the practice squad.
Tomlin admitted to using poor clock management at the end of the first half.
Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to Moore with 36 seconds left. Instead of using the Steelers' final timeout, Roethlisberger ran another play — a swing pass to Moore — that resulted in minus-2 yards.
"I thought we had a pretty good play that could put us comfortably in field-goal range," Tomlin said. "We probably could've handled the situation better."
The Steelers added receiver Tyler Grisham to the practice squad three days after releasing him from the practice squad. ... Receiver Hines Ward still has 991 career receptions. The veteran receiver did not have a catch against the 49ers and was not even targeted. ... Mendenhall averaged 4.3 yards per carry against the 49ers, who have the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL and are yielding just 3.3 yards per carry. ... Receiver Antonio Brown needs 17 receiving yards to go over 1,000 for the season.
Steelers vs. 49ers December 19, 2011src="http://photos.mycapture.com/PITT/1382428/39398016T.jpg" alt="Steelers vs. 49ers December 19, 2011" title="Steelers vs. 49ers December 19, 2011">
San Francisco defeats the Steelers, 20-3.
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