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Steelers' veterans prepare for uncertain offseason after missing playoffs

| Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 8:15 p.m.
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (99) tosses a sweatband to fans as he walks off Heinz Field after a 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.
Steelers free safety Ryan Clark (25) tosses his jersey to fans as he walks off Heinz Field following a 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.
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Steelers safety Troy Polamalu reacts during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Brett Keisel seemingly turned back the clock as the Steelers tried in vain to get into the postseason with a 20-7 victory over AFC North rival Cleveland at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The veteran defensive end figures midnight has struck for him and several long-time Steelers — including free safety Ryan Clark and perhaps strong safety Troy Polamalu — after the San Diego Chargers outlasted Kansas City in overtime to short-circuit the Steelers' playoff hopes.

“I told my guys in the defensive line room that this would be the last time we get to stand together in that spot with this group of guys,” said Keisel, who had a sack and forced fumble Sunday. “The way the league is, it changes every year no matter what.

“It was emotional, but I'm just proud to be a Steeler. I'm proud to finish this thing strong.”

The core of Steelers' veterans — Keisel, Clark, Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery — contributed down the stretch as the Steelers finished the second half of the season at 6-2.

Keisel, Clark, Polamalu and Taylor had a combined 14 solo tackles against the Browns. Cotchery, who had only one catch in each of the previous two games, had three catches and a touchdown before leaving in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.

“We have four guys on defense everybody calls old,” said Taylor, a 12-year veteran. “If (the media) just needs to get rid of us, I can respect that. We can talk about being old all day, but Brett is Brett and he played with a lot of passion.

“For the most part, we knew it was going to take a while for this team to gel because of the inexperienced guys and because we lost two of our top dogs (center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote). We went through part of the season like it was training camp.”

Still, there were signs that some Steelers had come to grips with the inevitable. The veteran defensive backs jogged onto the field together during the introductions, and Keisel pulled back the imaginary bow of his arrow one last time before a crowd of 56,361.

“We play together, win together and fail together,” Taylor said. “We wanted to come out together in the last game at Heinz Field. There was no message.”

When asked if he feels as if he'll be playing in Pittsburgh next year, Polamalu slipped the question.

“We'll see,” he said with an easy smile. “What happens happens.”

Clark wasn't nearly as ambiguous. He said he gave away his game jersey and cleats, in part, because he anticipates the game was his last at Heinz Field.

“I wasn't necessarily saying goodbye,” Clark said. “I'm going to play, and it might not be here. When you finish with over 100 tackles, it shows you can get around the ball. I'm a 12-year guy who didn't miss a practice. As long as I'm healthy, I should have a shot.”

If the Steelers make significant changes, linebacker Lawrence Timmons is confident about the future.

“I just hope I'm here next year,” Timmons said. “It's a business, sadly. Hopefully, not much will happen.

“We're transitioning as a defense, but we have guys like (defensive end) Cam (Heyward) and (linebacker) Jarvis Jones stepping up. We have a good upside.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib

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