Tomlin, Steelers realize poor start scuttled postseason chances
As Steelers safety Ryan Clark watched his son's youth basketball game Sunday night, agent Joel Turner called him with big news, the excitement evident in his voice.
“My client is about to send you guys to the playoffs!” Turner said, with more than a bit of pride.
He was referring to Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop, who, of course, ended up missing the 41-yard field-goal attempt that would have given Kansas City's backups an upset win over San Diego and put the Steelers into the postseason.
A few minutes later, Clark called Turner back and relayed this message: “Thanks for jinxing us.”
But as the Steelers players packed up their bags, attended meetings, received injury treatment and began pondering an offseason that began much sooner than they wanted, the universal theme Monday was they doomed themselves with their 0-4 start. They didn't blame Succop, the officials or the Chiefs. They blamed themselves.
And tight end Heath Miller agreed with a description that to him perfectly fits a team that has playmaking talent on both sides of the ball yet went 8-8 for the second straight season.
“I don't think anyone's goal in this locker room was to go 8-8 and be sitting out the first week of January like we will,” Miller said.
“We've got no one to blame but ourselves. We're an 8-8 team, and we had eight opportunities to get a win ourselves and that wouldn't have been an issue (Sunday). It's our fault we're in the position we're in.”
It's not quite the position they were in a year ago, when that 8-8 felt much worse than this one does. Then, they faded down the stretch with five losses in seven games and played themselves out of the playoffs. This time, they surged with six wins in eight games and almost, miraculously, played themselves into the postseason.
As close as they came — and it was less than a foot, given how close Succop came to converting — the Steelers realize that beating Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee or Miami would have put them in. Then they wouldn't have had to rely on a kicker from another team nearly 3,000 miles away.
“We stepped into 16 (games) this season, and we came out 8-8,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “It doesn't matter what happened in San Diego. It doesn't matter what play it was. We had an opportunity just like every team in NFL.”
As the Steelers went about their end-of-season business, they realized this group won't be together again. Many of their 18 free agents likely will move on, including players such as Clark and Sanders.
Now they'll all spend the rest of their careers wondering what would have happened if they'd gotten in.
“I feel like we could make some noise,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.
Instead, all the players heard as they left the Steelers' South Side complex was a TV set tuned to NFL Network. The topic of discussion? Officials' failure to call the Chargers for illegally lining up on Succop's miss.
“It's a sad day to know you don't have an opportunity to play for the Super Bowl,” Clark said. “It's why we come to work. … Nobody remembers who comes in second place and nobody remembers the rest of the teams. To me, that's the sad part.”