PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers supposedly had no chance of making the playoffs after they started 2-6, or so they were told for weeks and weeks.
Actually, they did. A good one, too.
If the Steelers (8-8) hadn't lost to the Baltimore Ravens 31-7 on Christmas Eve, or if they had avoided any one of a series of close losses in the first half of the season, they would have made the playoffs for the 11th time in Bill Cowher's 15 seasons as coach.
"We definitely feel like that if we'd gotten in, we would have done some damage," linebacker Joey Porter
said Monday. "But it's easy to say this when you could have done it but you didn't do it."
No NFL team has made the playoffs after starting 2-6 and losing its eighth game of the season. Yet the Steelers came very close to doing so when they won six of their last eight games and AFC opponents Cincinnati (8-8), Jacksonville (8-8) and Denver (9-7) all faltered down the stretch.
Turns out the Steelers got all the extra help they needed to reach the postseason, only to trip themselves up when they lost to the Ravens twice. They lost 27-0 in Baltimore on Nov. 26 in what wide receiver Hines Ward
called the worst-played game of his nine-season career.
Imagine how surprised the Steelers were when, after they knocked Cincinnati out of the playoffs with a 23-17 overtime victory Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) sneaked in as the AFC's sixth-seeded team. The Chiefs lost in Pittsburgh 45-7 on Oct. 15.
The Steelers won the NFL championship as a sixth-seeded team last season, beating Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver on the road before defeating Seattle in the Super Bowl.
"Just knowing we're as good a football team as we were last year, but being in a situation where we can't go fight for another ring, that's the toughest part," defensive end Brett Keisel
said. "When you see teams that are in that we beat, that's what makes it tough."
Several Steelers said the difference in this team and the Super Bowl championship team was the ability to win close games. This is only the second Steelers team to finish .500 or below since 1999.
The most inexplicable loss was a 20-13 defeat at Oakland, which won only one other game. The Steelers outgained Oakland 360-98, yet lost when Ben Roethlisberger
threw four interceptions and the offense couldn't get the ball in from the 1-yard line late in the Oct. 29 game.
Other defeats provided pivotal, including a 41-38 overtime defeat at Atlanta on Oct. 22 when a motion penalty in the closing seconds cost the Steelers a chance to kick a potential game-winning field goal.
"The Raiders game, I felt we had that game," Porter said. "Atlanta, the first Cincinnati game (a 28-20 loss), I felt we should have won all three of them. But if you don't win those games that you're supposed to win, that's when you get into the situation we're in."
Missing the playoffs means Ryan Clark
, who signed with the Steelers after playing for the Redskins last season, now has some explaining to do to wife Yonka.
"I had already spent my playoff check," Clark said. "I told my wife, 'Yeah, babe, I'll get you that new car with the playoff money, so I don't have to use (his salary).' But it didn't work out that way."