Last week, Mike Tomlin cost the Pittsburgh Steelers a draft pick by sticking his foot inbounds.
This week, Antonio Brown cost the Steelers any realistic shot at a playoff berth by sticking his foot out of bounds.
That’s the kind of season it’s been.
The Steelers trailed by six on the game’s final play when Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to Emmanuel Sanders at the Steelers’ 33-yard line.
With no time left on the clock, Sanders lateraled to Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery lateraled to Le’Veon Bell.
Bell lateraled to Marcus Gilbert.
Gilbert lateraled to Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger lateraled to Brown.
At this point, the ball was on the opposite side of the field, and Brown found an opening. He ran 67 yards down the left sideline, all the way to the end zone.
For a second, it looked like Steelers fans would fondly remember the Immaculate Lateral for decades to come.
Sanders, Cotchery, Bell, Gilbert, Roethlisberger and Brown connected like rosary beads across the thin sheet of snow to answer the Steelers’ prayer.
All they needed was Shaun Suisham’s extra point, and the Steelers would beat the Dolphins with a miracle for the ages.
Except that Brown stepped out of bounds at the 15-yard line.
Dolphins win, 34-28.
Now the 5-8 Steelers need, well, a miracle to make the playoffs. For the second straight year, they will not have a winning record.
Twisting the knife a little more is the thought that Brown seemed to have enough room to avoid stepping out of bounds. Safety Chris Clemons was the last Dolphin who had a chance to stop him, and Brown appeared to have Clemons beat when his foot touched that white strip that everyone has heard so much about over the past week and a half.
Once again this season, euphoria turned to exasperation for Steelers fans.
If only Brown had kept his foot inbounds. If only Sanders had hung onto the ball on the two-point conversion attempt in Baltimore.
Brown and Sanders reunited with their former Young Money Crew teammate Sunday, and there aren’t many “if only”s swirling around him these days.
Mike Wallace and the 7-6 Dolphins are in the thick of the AFC wild-card race.
Brown caught five passes, including a touchdown, and joined Hines Ward as the only Steelers to catch 90 passes in a season.
Sanders also had a touchdown among his four catches. He has a career-high 58 receptions this season and will earn a handsome payday – somewhere else – sometime in March.
Wallace had just two catches for 19 yards. Cortez Allen’s coverage twice spared Steelers fans the sight of Wallace catching one of his signature home run balls in another uniform.
But Wallace will take the W.
The Steelers quickly turned a 17-7 deficit into a 21-17 lead in the third quarter. Roethlisberger threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brown and 51 seconds later Troy Polamalu intercepted Ryan Tannehill and ran it back 19 yards for the pick-six.
It didn’t take long for the Steelers to squander their momentum. On the Dolphins’ next possession, Tannehill completed a 40-yard pass to Charles Clay on third-and-4 from the Miami 35. That set up a 4-yard TD pass to Brian Hartline for a 24-21 Dolphins advantage.
Roethlisberger hit Cotchery with a 16-yard touchdown pass, Cotchery’s career-high ninth TD catch, to give the Steelers a 28-24 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Steelers just couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. A 19-yard pass to Cotchery moved the ball to the Dolphins’ 43 with 7:06 left. Then two straight penalties on offensive linemen stalled the drive.
Still, the Dolphins assumed possession at their own 20 with 4:31 left needing a touchdown. All the Steelers had to do was stop them.
That wouldn’t be a problem for a team deserving of a playoff berth.
Daniel Thomas ran for 105 yards on 16 carries Sunday, just two weeks after suffering an ankle injury that many thought would end his season. His 55-yard run set up what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown, a 12-yard pass to Clay with three minutes left.
After Roethlisberger scrambled for nine yards on 4th-and-10 deep in Steelers territory, the Dolphins added a 27-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to make it 34-28.
On their own 20 with 1:08 left and no timeouts, the Steelers needed a touchdown. And they almost had one on the play that almost earned a name.
The Dolphins can mathematically eliminate the Steelers from playoff contention with a win over the New England Patriots at home next Sunday, and according to ESPN.com Rob Gronkowski might have a torn ACL.
That puts the Steelers in the compromising position of rooting for Tom Brady. They’ll need his help if they’re going to have anything to play for next Sunday night at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.
At this point, meaningful games are all the Steelers can hope for.
That and better foot awareness on the part of their head coach and top receiver.