Soon. Just not now. Not yet. The loss that eliminated them is too recent, the emotions too raw, the missed opportunity still too real to allow for perspective.
Today, that 23-16 final score from Sports Authority Field carries with it the dual disappointment of a season ended and an unfulfilled sense of what could have been.
When the Divisional Round of these playoffs began on Saturday afternoon, the Steelers were one of eight teams left in a field to be whittled down over the next fortnight to the two qualifiers for Super Bowl 50. And even with a roster depleted by injuries and a quarterback using guts to make up for an injured throwing shoulder, these Steelers were the equal of any other team in the field.
That’s where the unfulfilled sense of what could have been creeps back into the consciousness, because this sure was looking like a year when a trip to New England wasn’t necessarily a death blow to a team’s championship dreams, where Peyton Manning was playing like a 39-year-old man, where Aaron Rodgers’ Packers were nothing special, and where Carolina and Arizona presented rosters that were talented but yet burdened by the kind of playoff inexperience that’s so often lethal in late-January football.
There was little argument that the Steelers had the necessary pedigree, but what was in doubt was whether their roster could continue to absorb injuries to important individuals and still turn out enough of whatever was required for the team to win and advance. Against the Broncos, they would be facing a team they had defeated rather handily less than a month ago in Pittsburgh, but this time it would be without
But as so often happens, the game came down to some of the most basic fundamentals of the sport, the kinds of things that have been separating winners from losers on the gridiron dating back to football’s infancy. Turnovers and field position.
Throughout this six-month odyssey, the Steelers came to embrace and embody the mantra of “next man up,” but against the Broncos they came to feel Brown’s absence, but not in the area that seemed most obvious. Even without the best receiver in football, the Steelers passing attack still churned out over 300 net yards, with
But where Brown’s absence hurt the Steelers was on punt returns, because
And even though the Steelers turned the ball over just one time, that became a minus-1 in turnover ratio as a result of no takeaways by the defense, and the timing of the lost fumble by Fitz Toussaint couldn’t have been worse.
Having lucked their way out of another gaffe by Wheaton in an attempt at fielding a punt, the Steelers started this offensive possession at their 25-yard line because
Anyway, the first play was a 22-yard gain on a nice, safe pass to
At the precise moment of the turnover, the Steelers were moving smartly down the field to add at least another field goal that would have extended their lead to 16-12, and they appeared to be in the process of imposing their will on a Denver defense that spent most of 2015 as the NFL’s best. And a four-point lead would have put the pressure on Manning to engineer a touchdown drive for an offense that had yet been able to do that in this game.
Almost seven minutes of game time after Ware’s recovery, the Broncos did in fact cross the goal line for the first time, and the Steelers’ season was on a direct path to being over.
It was Vince Lombardi who once said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” Maybe some day soon, these Steelers will be able to look back favorably on their 2015 season within the context of those words. Right now, though, it just hurts.