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It’s Sad to See the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Go

For the fourth straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have either missed the playoffs or gone one-and-done in the playoffs.

Saturday’s 30-17 wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh brings about another long offseason for the Steelers and their fans.

There will be plenty of time for mock drafts and free-agency wish lists. Right now, it’s tough waking up in the morning knowing the Steelers’ 2014 season is over.

We go through this every year in one form or another unless the Steelers win the Super Bowl. But not every Steelers epitaph is the same.

Since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007, the Steelers have either gone to the Super Bowl, lost a wild-card game or missed the playoffs.

Losing Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers was painful, coming that far only to fall one win short of the ultimate prize. But there’s still a fulfilling quality to the 2010 season.

When the Steelers lose a wild-card game, however, we’re left wanting more. And Tomlin is 0-3 in wild-card games.

The first of those losses came in 2007, also at home on a Saturday night. They fell behind the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-10 in the third quarter before roaring back and taking a 29-28 lead only to lose 31-29 on Josh Scobee’s field goal with 25 seconds left.

The heartbreak was mended the following year when the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.

There have been no championships to repair the scars of the Steelers’ overtime loss at Denver in the 2011 wild-card game. That defeat was so sudden and being punked by Tim Tebow was so infamous that the sting still hasn’t gone away.

There was a certain emptiness to the Steelers’ 2007 and 2011 seasons as a whole. In 2007, the Steelers started 7-2. Then came a slow, steady decline and a 10-6 finish before their quick playoff exit.

The Steelers went 12-4 in 2011, but something wasn’t right with that team. They forced only 15 turnovers. Maybe it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that they lost to the 8-8 Broncos in the playoffs.

The 2007 and 2011 Steelers didn’t leave us with many fond memories, but the 2014 Steelers did.

Ben Roethlisberger dazzled like the aurora borealis with six touchdown passes in two straight games during a three-game winning streak that improved the Steelers to 6-3 and broke them out of a rut of .500 football that lasted more than two years.

The Steelers topped that with a four-game winning streak in December that catapulted them to the AFC North title. In Pittsburgh, “December to Remember” meant more than a Lexus sales event. Steelers fans will keep a mental scrapbook of their team’s 25-point fourth quarter at Cincinnati, Tomlin victoriously beating his chest in front of Terrible Towel wavers in Atlanta and two throwback defensive performances to close out the season.

Then came a bitter reminder of 2007. Le’Veon Bell hyperextended his knee, and although no one knew it at the time, his season was over.

Everyone knew Willie Parker’s season was over when he broke his leg in 2007. He was leading the NFL in rushing when he was injured at St. Louis in Week 16. But the Steelers’ boat already was sinking before Parker’s injury. They entered that game with two straight losses.

This year, the Steelers were sailing into the playoffs and Bell’s injury hit them like an iceberg. We’ll never know how far the Steelers could have gone with a healthy Bell.

So while Saturday’s wild-card defeat wasn’t as heart-stopping as the ones in 2007 and 2011, in a way it hurts more because this team was more likable for what it accomplished than the ’07 and ’11 teams. It also hurts more because the Steelers’ elimination came at the hands of the hated Ravens.

Since Bell was chosen in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Steelers are 19-10 with him, and 0-4 without him.

His injury stamps a big “What If” on the story of the Steelers’ 2014 playoff demise, but it doesn’t make this loss forgivable. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, more than any other franchise. With or without Bell, there’s no such thing as a “nice try” season.

The good news is that Bell has eight months to heal.

For Steelers fans, it will be a different kind of healing process.

And it will be a long eight months.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

 

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