Caught in an avalanche

BALTIMORE _ It ended in the rain, at 8-8 and short of the playoffs.

But defensive tackle and defensive captain Cam Heyward wasn't ready in the immediate aftermath of Ravens 28, Steelers 10 to reflect on the journey that had finally ended early Sunday evening at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The only thing that's stamped in my head right now is this damn loss," Heyward said. "I can't really think outside that right now. We fell short, didn't accomplish our goals.

"It was an avalanche."

It was mostly an avalanche of rushing yards. The Ravens gained 223 of those, a season-high total for a Steelers' opponent in 2019, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 44 attempts. The 44 carries and 5.1 average were also season-high figures against the Steelers this season.

"They just came out there and did a really good job running the ball," cornerback Joe Haden said. "We couldn't really stop it. They never really got behind the sticks, and they just stayed on schedule. 'RG3' (Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III) did a good job of running that read-option, not hurting them, using his legs to get first downs.

"We just gotta be able to contain them and stop them. We know what kind of defense we have and we can't be giving up stuff like that if we want to win."

OFFENSIVE APOLOGY: The Steelers had the ball for 20:33 against the Ravens, their lowest time of possession on the season. Their 77 net yards passing and 168 total net yards constituted season-low efforts in those departments, as well.

That had guard Ramon Foster looking back and ahead.

"Yeah, our defense has been smoking hot," Foster said. "I found myself apologizing to them, like, 'Guys, I'm sorry.' We didn't do enough offensively, period.

"That defense, I tell you, is really special. You get, hopefully, (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) back next year, I don't want to fall on that but that's just the reality of it. When you have a franchise, Super Bowl-winning, Hall-of-Fame quarterback, with the defense we have, if they can keep everybody intact, that's gonna be something really nice moving forward."

GOING DOWN SWINGING: Not lost on most of the players, even amid the disappointment of not making the playoffs was the way they had battled, individually and collectively, throughout a season wrought with heartbreak and adversity.

The challenges faced this season included but weren't limited to the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake in training camp and losing Roethlisberger for the season to an elbow injury on Sept. 15 against Seattle.

Wide receiver James Washington: "Even from the get-go I thought, I was like, 'Man, we got a chance, still.' I never gave up on anyone. I don't think anyone else on this team gave up on each other. That's just the bond that we have here. We all care about each other and we're all brothers, no matter what. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else just because of that."

Inside linebacker Mark Barron: "This team went through a lot this year with injuries and certain situations, losing a coach. And to come out and do what we did, not to say this is a great season but I felt like we came out and competed each and every week. We played with heart each and every week. And that's really all you can ask for."

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree: "I feel like a lot of guys on the team stood up in situations despite adversity, despite the cards that we were dealt the whole season. Guys still didn't tuck their tail, nobody acted soft, nobody was scared and everybody played hard. I have a lot of respect for everybody on the team.

"It's been a long journey, we just gotta win."

WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR: Heyward recognizes the Steelers' potential, individually and collectively, heading into next season.

But he's not counting on potential alone writing a different story in 2020.

"Potential is a scary word," Heyward maintained. "You either reach it or you don't. I think we have a lot of great guys, but you don't know what we're going to look like next year. It's going to be up to a lot of guys to step up, grow, guys to come back, and we'll see.

"I'd like another run at this but I understand the nature of this business."

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