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Steelers should fire Keith Butler, not Mike Tomlin, after missing playoffs

The Steelers signed kicker Matt McCrane off the street.

He makes all three of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 35-yarder with 1:56 left, and the Steelers beat the Bengals 16-13 Sunday at Heinz Field.

It’s quite a story, but there was no time to revel in this victory. As soon as the clock struck zero in Pittsburgh, the question was What’s Going on in Baltimore.

What went on in Baltimore would probably rank No. 2 on the list of the most painful scoreboard-watching moments in Steelers history. The only one worse was Ryan Succop‘s infamous missed field goal that would have given the Chiefs’ backups a win over the Chargers and the Steelers a playoff berth in 2013.

The Browns didn’t come that close to beating the Ravens Sunday. Down two points with about a minute left, they were within 10 yards of field goal range when C.J. Mosley intercepted Baker Mayfield on fourth down.

The Steelers still could have sneaked under the velvet ropes of the playoffs if the Colts and Titans had played to a tie Sunday night, but since this is American football and not the sport that’s called football everywhere else in the world, we knew there was no way Sunday night’s game wouldn’t have a winner.

So the Steelers (9-6-1) have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They’ll have gone 11 years since their last championship and nine years since their last Super Bowl appearance. They were 7-2-1 on Thanksgiving and cleaning out their lockers on New Year’s Eve (or maybe New Year’s Day).

This organization faces a lot of questions. There will be time this offseason to examine all of them. For now, let’s start with the easiest one:

Should Mike Tomlin be fired?

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Saints 31, Steelers 28: Steelers aren’t ‘nice’ enough to make the playoffs

The Steelers aren’t likely to find a playoff berth under their tree this Christmas season.

They lost 31-28 to the Saints Sunday at New Orleans. The Saints (13-2) clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with the win. There’s nothing naughty about losing to an elite team like this.

But Santa knows when the Steelers are sleeping. He knows when they’re awake.

He knows when they lose to the Raiders, for goodness sake.

The Steelers (8-6-1) would have been on Santa’s “nice” list if they had overcome Tom Brady and Drew Brees in consecutive weeks. But to absorb losses to quality opponents, you need to beat teams like the Raiders and the Hue Jackson-coached Browns.

If the Steelers had beaten the Raiders (3-11) two weeks ago or even held their 21-7 fourth-quarter lead at Cleveland in Week 1, they’d be in the playoffs with a Week 17 win Sunday at home against the Bengals (6-9).

Instead, the Steelers will be scoreboard watching for the first time since 2015, like children peeking out their window hoping to see Santa and his reindeer flying across the sky.

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Steelers 17, Patriots 10: Recent Steelers draft picks rise to occasion

The Steelers finally have figured out the key to beating Tom Brady.

Wait seven years.

Sunday’s 17-10 win at Heinz Field was the Steelers’ first over a Brady-led Patriots team since they won 25-17 at Pittsburgh in 2011. The only other time the Steelers have beaten Brady was 2004, a 34-13 home win.

The Steelers won 33-10 at New England in 2008, but that came against Matt Cassel because Brady missed most of that year with a knee injury.

Spaced seven years apart, these Steelers’ wins over Brady are like some kind of celestial phenomenon. No, it’s not a 76-year wait like Halley’s Comet, although it’s seemed that way.

And speaking of Halley, or Haley, it’s not insignificant that entering Sunday’s game the last time the Steelers beat Brady was the year before Todd Haley was hired as offensive coordinator. Now, the Steelers have beaten Brady the year after firing Haley.

No, Haley wasn’t the reason the Steelers couldn’t stop Brady, but it could be he was part of a bigger problem that the Steelers finally might be solving. We’ll get back to that.

Catholic children born the first time the Steelers beat Brady in 2004 were likely having their First Communion right around the time the Steelers bested Brady in 2011 and are probably entering high school this year.

In much the same way, these victories seem to have come at significant turning points in Steelers history.

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Raiders 24, Steelers 21: Steelers’ playoff chances slipping away

The Steelers had it made on Sunday.

The Ravens lost, giving the Steelers an opportunity to increase their AFC North lead to a game and a half.

The Texans lost. The Patriots suffered a crushing loss to the Dolphins on a last-second lateral that turned into a game-winning touchdown. Those losses made the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye reachable for the Steelers once again.

The Steelers were golden. They bought Gillian Jacobs a few drinks at the bar and had her twirling her hair, touching their arm and laughing at all their jokes. All they had to do was say “Let’s get out of here,” and they’d be hooked up.

Instead, they picked their nose.

All the Steelers had to do Sunday to take advantage of their good fortune was beat a 2-10 Raiders team in Oakland.

Instead, they lost 24-21.

They blew it.

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Chargers 33, Steelers 30: Steelers struggling while other AFC teams are on the rise

Another week, another team that looks like it has a better chance than the Steelers to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Remember a month or so ago when the Patriots and Chiefs seemed to be the main hurdles between the Steelers and Super Bowl LIII?

Those were simpler times.

Now the Chargers have stamped themselves as legitimate contenders after beating the Steelers 33-30 Sunday night at Heinz Field.

This comes a week after the Steelers (7-4-1) lost to the Broncos, another rising power in the conference.

And let’s not forget about the Texans (9-3), who have won nine straight.

The pack has caught up with the Steelers, who are only a half game ahead of the rejuvenated Ravens (7-5) in the AFC North. The Steelers have lost two in a row, their first losing streak since the four-game skid that nearly sank their season in 2016.

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Broncos 24, Steelers 17: Sloppy Steelers let win slip away

Who needs a first-round bye anyway? It didn’t exactly work out too well for the Steelers in the playoffs last season.

The Steelers blew a chance to pull to within a half game of the Chiefs and stay ahead of the Patriots in the jockeying for AFC playoff seeding after falling 24-17 to the Broncos Sunday.

This team won’t go very far in the playoffs, regardless of its seed, if it doesn’t clean up its sloppiness.

The Steelers (7-3-1) entered Sunday’s game with six straight wins, but they’ve essentially played one quarter of winning football in the last two games. They turned the ball over four times Sunday and didn’t force a turnover. They committed three turnovers and forced just one last week in Jacksonville and their turnover ratio this season is minus-3.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions Sunday, including one into the hands of 290-pound Shelby Harris in the end zone with a minute left that clinched the win for the Broncos (5-6).

Roethlisberger bobbled the snap and faked a handoff to James Conner, who almost tripped and ended up with his back to the goal line. Not the best way to sell a fake.

After that awkward exchange, Roethlisberger tried to force a throw to Antonio Brown when Harris stepped in. Once again a disheveled goal-line play cost the Steelers, like last season’s end-zone interception that dashed their hopes of defeating the Patriots.

The Steelers already had burned two timeouts in the second half Sunday before getting the ball with 4:26 left and a chance to tie. They just don’t seem organized in their two-minute offense, resembling a family of tourists in New York walking around haphazardly and having three different conversations as they try to figure out where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

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Steelers 20, Jaguars 16: Offense earns its ‘comeback’ badge

It’s one thing for the Steelers to shove a 50-Burger down the Panthers’ throats.

It’s one thing for Ben Roethlisberger to earn a perfect passer rating.

It’s one thing to score 177 points during a five-game stretch, a franchise record the Steelers had achieved heading into Sunday’s game in Jacksonville, according to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.

Those dizzying numbers are nice, but the Steelers’ offense added another feather to its already decorated cap in Sunday’s 20-16 win over the Jaguars.

After being shackled for almost three quarters by an elite defense, the Steelers somehow scored enough points to take down their 2017 tormentors.

The Jaguars defeated the Steelers 30-9 at Pittsburgh in Week 5 last season and then stunned them 45-42 in the divisional playoffs at Pittsburgh.

They’ve fallen on hard times this season, dropping to 3-7 with Sunday’s defeat. But with their third-ranked defense, they haunted the Steelers Sunday. They intercepted Roethlisberger three times, limiting him to 10 completions in 23 attempts for 60 yards in the first 43 minutes of the game. They held the Steelers to 2.4 rushing yards per attempt in the game.

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Steelers 52, Panthers 21: Six takeaways from Steelers win

It seemed awfully cold for August Thursday night at Heinz Field.

The Steelers were playing the Panthers and Joshua Dobbs was at quarterback.

Must have been Week 4 of the preseason, right?

Nope. This game counted.

The Steelers steamrolled the Panthers 52-21, putting up some scoreboard-tilting numbers that provide a perfect opportunity for some takeaways, number-crunching and did-you-knows.

Ben Roethlisberger‘s perfect night

Ben Roethlisberger did play Thursday night, but he was only needed for about three quarters. He completed 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns, giving him a perfect passer rating (158.3) for the fourth time in his career but the first time since 2007.

That’s right. Roethlisberger never had a perfect passer rating while Todd Haley was his offensive coordinator. The Steelers have scored 279 points this season, an average of 31 points per game. They’re on pace to score 496. The franchise record is 436 in 2014, according to Pro Football Reference.

Heading into this season, Haley was the offensive coordinator for four of the six highest-scoring seasons in Steelers’ history. But for all the talk about the Steelers’ prolific offense over the past few seasons, those 436 points in 2014 rank only 71st in NFL history, according to Sporting Charts.

With an offensive coordinator in Randy Fichtner who just lets Roethlisberger do his thing, the Steelers might finally have an offense that’s considered among the best of all-time.

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Steelers 23, Ravens 16: Ben Roethlisberger hangs tough, Steelers hang on

At 36 years old, Ben Roethlisberger‘s still got it.

He can take the same kind of beatings he took when he was in his early 30’s.

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 47 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Steelers’ 23-16 win over the Ravens Sunday at Baltimore. He also ran for a touchdown, but for a couple of minutes early in the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like Roethlisberger would finish the game.

The Steelers quarterback scrambled for 12 yards and was taken down by Ravens defender Za’Darius Smith. Roethlisberger seemed to land on his right shoulder and stayed on the turf with the Steelers’ medical staff attending to him.

This wasn’t the first time in Roethlisberger’s career that Steelers fans have had to hold their breath and hope that he wasn’t hurt too badly after taking a hit. While some of his injuries have forced him to miss games, the Steelers always have avoided the worst-case scenario.

Was their luck about to run out?

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Steelers 33, Browns 18: James Conner putting up historic numbers

After every Steelers game this season, the name of a certain Steelers running back has been mentioned in this space in the context of how the Steelers are getting along without him.

The name of this jet-skiing rapper usually comes as an aside late in the column.

That ends this week, because this guy has become an afterthought and his name doesn’t even deserve any search engine optimization.

James Conner, meanwhile, has earned prominent mention after running for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns and also catching five passes for 66 yards in the Steelers’ 33-18 win over the Browns Sunday at Heinz Field.

Conner shouldn’t have to be talked about in the same breath as the guy who he used to back up. He does, however, merit a place in the same sentence as some of the greatest running backs in franchise history.

No, Conner hasn’t done nearly enough to be directly compared to Franco Harris or Willie Parker. But he has matched at least one of their accomplishments.

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