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Boots and blocks, including one that wasn't

On the last play of the regular season the special teams produced a 36-yard, game-winning field goal in overtime in Baltimore that helped deliver the Steelers into the postseason.

On the first play of the regular season the special teams coughed up a 75-yard kickoff return that set the Bills up at the Steelers' 24-yard line.

Such was the extent of the special teams spectrum this season.

The Steelers finished No. 18 in overall special teams according to the highly-detailed, highly-respected annual rankings compiled by veteran NFL writer Rick Gosselin.

But their middle-of-the-road performance in the kicking game wasn't without its highlights.

Following is a look back at a few of the more memorable special teams moments in 2021:

No. 5: Pin Them Deep
Pressley Harvin III's punting was uneven throughout his rookie season but Harvin and the coverage units managed to consistently force opponents to start drives inside the 20. The Steelers came up with 26 inside-the-20 punts, which was good for No. 3 in the league in that category according to Gosselin's rankings (25 by Harvin, one by Corliss Waitman). That was the second-highest ranking the special teams achieved among the 22 statistical categories considered by Gosselin.

Take a look at photographs of Steelers P Pressley Harvin III from the 2021 season

No. 4: Saving His Best For Last
Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud's final punt return of the regular season turned out to be a season-best, 23-yard effort on Jan. 9 at Baltimore. The Steelers trailed the Ravens, 10-6, but McCloud's return set them up at the 50 with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter. They cashed in on the good field position by completing a 10-play, 50-yard drive in 5:13 for a touchdown and a 13-10 lead. That helped eventually get the Steelers to overtime and, ultimately, the playoffs. McCloud finished sixth in the NFL in punt returns with a 9.7 average on 38 attempts.

Take a look at photographs of Steelers WR Ray-Ray McCloud from the 2021 season

No. 3: Say It Ain't So, Joe
Officially, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick's blocked field goal and 75-yard return for a touchdown on Oct. 3 in Green Bay was nullified by an offside penalty against cornerback Joe Haden. The contention on the Steelers' side, from Haden in particular, was no penalty flag should have been thrown on the play. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith was among those who agreed with Haden after studying the tape. "We were not offside, I can assure you of that," Smith insisted. The turn of events on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers' 8 with eight seconds left in the first half sent the Steelers to the locker room at halftime facing a 17-10 deficit rather than leading, 17-14. They went on to lose the game, 27-17.

No. 2: Block That Kick
The special teams changed the game in the fourth quarter of the regular-season opener at Buffalo. Safety Miles Killebrew blocked a punt on fourth-and-12 from the Bills' 23 with 9:51 remaining in regulation and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III recovered and returned the ball 9 yards for a touchdown that upped a 13-10 Steelers' lead to 20-10 on the way to a 23-16 victory.

Killebrew's second blocked punt of the season went out of bounds at the Chargers' 3 on Nov. 21 at Los Angeles. That set up a touchdown that brought the Steelers back to within 27-20 in a game they had trailed 27-10 but would ultimately lose, 41-37.

No.1: The Wizard Of Boz
The regular-season finale against the Ravens wasn't the only game kicker Chris Boswell won with a last-minute or last-play field goal.

He also converted a 37-yard effort that beat the Seahawks, 23-20, in overtime.

And a 40-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in regulation that beat the Bears, 29-27.

Boswell's four field goals on five attempts were critical components of the Steelers' 19-13 victory over the Titans (he hit from 36, 38, 46 and 48 yards away and came up short on a 56-yard attempt on the last play of the first half).

He also contributed four field goals on four attempts (from 22,30, 50 and 48 yards) in a 26-14 win over the Browns.

Boswell made at least three field goals in six of the Steelers' nine wins, and in the 16-16 tie with the Lions.