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Who Should Steelers Fans Root for in Super Bowl XLVIII?

So what are “Pittsburgh Steelers” and “Super Bowl XLVIII” doing in the same article title, you ask?

The search engines will be more confused than Jarvis Jones was playing defense early in his rookie season.

After three Super Bowl appearances in six years, the Steelers haven’t even won a playoff game in the last three years.

Even when the Steelers aren’t in the Super Bowl, fans of the Steelers and the other 29 teams not in the big game need someone to root for. What fun is it not caring who wins?

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Kickoff Returns Need Major Improvement For Steelers

Antonio Brown finished the 2013 season in the top four in both punt return yards and yards per return with one taken back for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Steelers as a team didn’t have that same success on kick returns. Felix Jones, the Steelers top kick returner, finished 19th in both yards and yards per return in the NFL. Every once in a while the team put Emmanuel Sanders back for a return and he definitely did a better job with 26.8 yards per return compared to 22.2 for Jones. Though that was a much smaller sample size, 10 returns to Jones’ 23, you would have to think Sanders could have done a better job as the full time return man.

There are only two problems with that thinking going forward though.
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Pittsburgh Steelers Hire Mike Munchak, Convert a Rival

It wasn’t easy to watch Mike Munchak shaking hands with his assistants on that September afternoon after the Tennessee Titans had secured a Week 1 victory at Heinz Field.

That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Sure, few predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers would go 13-3 or 12-4 in 2013, but the Steelers weren’t expected to lose at home to a Titans team coming off a 6-10 season.

It was a big step for the Titans, but a Hall of Fame offensive lineman like Munchak isn’t going to celebrate by doing pirouettes on the sidelines. Instead, there was a modest sense of satisfaction for a job well done.

Those handshakes were a sobering sight for Steelers fans. While coming to grips with the fact that the Steelers might not even match our tepid prognostications, we saw a Titans team possibly taking the first step toward becoming the NFL’s annual rags-to-riches story.

Who’d have thought that one of the Steelers’ earliest tormentors of 2013 would be on their side in 2014?

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Ranking the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Free Agents by Priority

Free-agent departures have become a rite of spring in recent years for the cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers have some hard choices to make, but there are some free agents they can’t afford to lose.

We’ve ranked the Steelers’ top 18 unrestricted free agents, as indicated by Spotrac, in order of priority. The higher they rank, the more important it is to keep them.

Linebacker Jamaal Westerman, offensive tackle Rashad Butler and cornerback Justin King aren’t included on this list. To make the list, a player had to have appeared in a game for the Steelers at one time or another.

This list is a countdown, so the players are ranked from least important to most important.

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Pittsburgh Steelers: 2013 Report Card for Defense, Special Teams and Coaching

No more pencils, no more books for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers did get some dirty looks from their fans during their second consecutive non-playoff season, and most of them came when they were on defense.

These grades for the defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, special teams, defensive coordinator and head coach won’t be worth hanging on a refrigerator.

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The Steelers Have Decisions To Make On The Defensive Line

The Pittsburgh Steelers will certainly need improvement on the defensive line in 2014 if they want to get back to being stout against the run. The Steelers’ defense finished an uncharacteristic 21st in the league against the run and 13th in overall defense. The team could also lose veterans Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods to free agency this offseason. That would leave only two defensive linemen on the team with any real experience.
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Pittsburgh Steelers: 2013 Report Card for Offense

The grades are in on the offensive side of the ball for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Although the Steelers were like a broken record in 2013, missing the playoffs for a second straight year and finishing 8-8 for the second straight year, the offense wasn’t the problem, at least not in the second half of the season.

Here are our grades for the Steelers quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and offensive coaches.

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What Is The Future Of The Cornerback Position?

The Pittsburgh Steelers just finished a disappointing 8-8 season and missed out on the playoffs for a second straight year. Though the team ended the 2013 strong by winning six of their final eight games, missing the playoffs still makes it an unsatisfactory season. The offense got most of the headlines due to the perceived feud between Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley however; the defense has become the real problem.
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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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Pittsburgh Steelers Can Only Watch as 2013 Season Comes to Painful End

First, the Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 0-4.

Then they were disgraced in New England.

Then a three-game winning streak came to an excruciating end on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore.

Then Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds against the Dolphins, foiling what might have been an Immaculate Reception for a new generation.

None of that was enough to knock the Steelers out of playoff contention.

 

FIRST-PERSON INTERLUDE:

Visiting family in Rhode Island for the holidays, I watched Sunday’s game in Pawtucket. This is the city where I became a Steelers fan 34 years ago, just a few miles from the site of the Steelers’ infamous beatdown two months ago.

I have to admit I felt some trepidation about the name of the bar where I watched the game, Murphy’s Law. The Steelers needed everything to go right, not wrong, to complete a miraculous turnaround from 0-4 to the playoffs.

And everything did go right.

Almost.

 

For a few thrilling hours Sunday, the Ravens and Dolphins were the teams pondering what might have been. Both were eliminated after their early losses while the Steelers’ playoff hopes went from a prayer to distinct possibility.

The Steelers completed a 6-2 post-Patriots record, defeating the Cleveland Browns 20-7 at Heinz Field. Meanwhile, the J-E-T-S gave the Steelers the H-E-L-P they needed from Miami with a 20-7 win over the Dolphins, and the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Ravens 34-17.

There was just one more Christmas present the Steelers needed.

It never came.

Now, even Steelers fans too young to remember any coach other than Mike Tomlin know there’s no Santa Claus, because the men in red and white couldn’t help their team.

In the late-afternoon game, the Steelers (8-8) needed the Kansas City Chiefs to defeat the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. Even though the Chiefs rested their starters, their backups were game, and suddenly the Steelers’ odds of making the playoffs were the best that they’d been since Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch embraced for posterity in Baltimore.

 

FIRST-PERSON INTERLUDE, PART II:

By this time, Patriots fans there for the Buffalo-New England game had taken over Murphy’s Law, but I was one of about five Steelers fans. We carved out our little enclave, and we were heard. The Chiefs’ understudies got on the board first, and every time the Chargers answered, the Chiefs answered right back.

Kansas City led 24-14 in the third quarter. At about 6:19 p.m., EST, @SteelersFanTN tweeted “Is there anyone out there, cause it’s getting harder and harder to breathe…#SteelersBelieve”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

At 6:25 I gave up on sitting down. Too nervous.

At 6:27, stuck at 799 followers, I shamelessly begged for one more follower, tweeting “Can I get an 800th follower before #Steelers season officially ends. Yeah, I’m nervous.”

800 followers before the end of the season had been sort of a goal. By 6:42, I had 816 followers. I felt like Professor Keating when his students stood on their desks in tribute to him in “Dead Poet’s Society.”

Thank you, boys. Thank you.

 

That analogy turned out to be more fitting than I would have liked, because the Steelers are now packing their belongings and making a bitter departure.

Had Shaun Suisham made field goals of 32 and 34 yards in Oakland or if someone, anyone, had tackled Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage that afternoon, the Steelers already would be watching Bengals game film when Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop lined up for what likely would be a game-winning 41-yard field goal with eight seconds left in regulation.

Instead, the Steelers watched helplessly as Succop’s kick went wide right.

Overtime.

According to Pro Football Talk (hat tip to @SteelerMatt2008 for alerting me), the Chargers should have been penalized for illegal formation on that attempt. But it wasn’t called.

C’mon, Bill Leavy was the referee. Wasn’t this supposed to level the playing field (wink, wink) in a game in which the Steelers’ fate rested on the Chiefs’ scrubs?

Ever since they flew back from London, the Steelers needed a miracle to get into the playoffs. Their miracle drug was about to wear off, but not before one last “Awakenings” moment. Yeah, another Robin Williams movie reference. Why not? The Steelers fans were the crazy ones at Murphy’s Law.

The Chargers faked a punt from their own 28 in overtime, and the Chiefs’ Cyrus Gray appeared to return Eric Weddle’s fumble for a touchdown. But the play was ruled dead after Weddle picked up the first down, and from there the Steelers’ remaining playoff chances slowly leaked away like air from a balloon.

Nick Novak’s 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in OT stood, and the Chargers won 27-24. The Chargers earned the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, and the Steelers were left with nothing but the No. 15 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Unless Roger Goodell takes it away.

Hey, the Chargers (9-7) deserved it more than the Steelers. Not only did they have the guts to fake that punt, but four days after Antonio Brown showed that he’s no Nik Wallenda, San Diego beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos at Denver.

Anyone seriously think the Steelers could have done that?

The Steelers are .500 for the second year in a row, but wasn’t this a more fun ride than last season?

This 2013 Steelers team that seemed headed toward oblivion when the leaves were changing colors somehow still had a shot at a playoff spot right up until 7:40 p.m., on Sunday night in Week 17.

Now all they have to do is start 2014 like they finished 2013.

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