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Pittsburgh Steelers: Heartbreaking 2013 Season Makes It Hard to Look Ahead

There will be plenty of time to compose a wish list of prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2014 NFL draft.

There will be plenty of time to bid farewell to the decorated veterans who inevitably will become victims of the Steelers’ annual salary cap purge.

Right now, I’m just not ready to pick myself up after Sunday night’s letdown.

Isn’t a team that’s 0-4 at the quarter pole and 2-6 halfway through the season supposed to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in “oh-by-the-way” fashion with weeks left in the season?

Had it happened that way, we’d pretty much be over it by now.

Instead, like trees in autumn, the Steelers’ playoff hopes shined their brightest just before withering away for the winter, and we were left in an emotional funk similar to the one induced by Tim Tebow two years ago next Wednesday.

This is how we felt after Super Bowl XLV.

This is how we felt after Bill Belichick and his boys made January visits to Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2004.

Thank-you cards were crumbled and thrown in the trash all over Western Pennsylvania and beyond when Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal that would have sent the Steelers to Cincinnati for an AFC wild-card game.

Then we hear that the Chargers were lined up illegally on that attempt and doddering old man Bill Leavy and his crew missed it.

Of course, the officials were right on top of it when Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds with no time left at Heinz Field three weeks earlier.

After the Steelers came back from New England with their tails between their legs, they lost only to the Ravens and Dolphins the rest of the way. While the Steelers’ playoff hopes were reduced to a prayer, those games seemed like defining moments for Miami and Baltimore.

It looked like there was no way the Dolphins would miss the playoffs after beating the Patriots and the Ravens seemed destined to play into January after Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal in Detroit.

But the Ravens and Dolphins both lost their last two games, and the Steelers didn’t lose again after Brown’s misstep. How uplifting it was to see the Ravens and Dolphins off the board and the Steelers as the only team occupying the “In the Hunt” column on CBS’ playoff picture graphic before the Chiefs-Chargers telecast.

It was even more uplifting when Chase Daniel and Knile Davis carried the Chiefs backups to a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter.

But all that did was make the fall that much steeper.

At least last year there was a meaningless season finale to numb the pain after the Bengals knocked the Steelers out of playoff contention a week earlier.

At least last year’s iconic moment came when Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch tearfully embraced after a last-second win at Baltimore.

When looking back on the Steelers’ 2013 season, it will be impossible to get around Brown’s miracle touchdown that was taken away.

The 2013 Steelers have earned a place next to the 2009 team in Steelers lore. That team lost not four but five games in a row, and their infamous skid came in the middle of the season rather than the beginning.

Both the 2009 and 2013 teams got their act together, finished the season with three straight victories and still had a shot at a playoff berth in Week 17.

The 2009 Steelers won at Miami to wrap up at 9-7 and needed the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Sunday-night game on the road against the New York Jets.

It didn’t happen. The Jets would be in the playoffs with a win. The Bengals, meanwhile, already were guaranteed a home playoff game and couldn’t get a first-round bye, so they had nothing to play for, and it showed. The Bengals rolled over and lost 37-0.

That was a lot easier to swallow than what happened Sunday.

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