NEW ORLEANS _ Cornerback Joe Haden was openly angry and frustrated, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was experiencing something he hadn’t previously and safety Sean Davis didn’t know what to think.
Such were the reactions in the visitor’s locker room on Sunday evening at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the wake of Saints 31, Steelers 28.
“This feeling (stinks),” Smith-Schuster said. “I’ve never felt this feeling before. It’s tough to go out like that.”
Smith-Schuster was referencing his fumble at the Saints’ 34-yard line in the final minute after catching an 8-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I got tackled, I fumbled, game over,” Smith-Schuster said. “I was just trying to get down, couldn’t get down, they made a good play.”
Haden had issues with two pass interference penalties against him. The first occurred in the first quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 34 on a pass into the end zone from quarterback Drew Brees to running back Alvin Kamara. The second came on fourth-and-2 from the Steelers’ 26 with two minutes left in regulation on a pass from Brees to wide receiver Michael Thomas that fell incomplete.
“I’m very frustrated, very (ticked),” Haden said. “This means a lot to me. I come out here, bust my tail, try to play good defense. It’s just tough the way the game’s changing.
“It’s an offensive game, you can’t touch these guys. It’s just tough being a defensive back. It just (stinks) sometimes when those plays are just so big. It’s very unfortunate, it (stinks), I’m (ticked) but next time I’ll try to make sure I can make those plays without getting a call.”
Haden didn’t think either flag was warranted this time.
“I just felt like those were bad calls,” he said.
The loss dropped the Steelers into second place in the AFC North Division and into a position of needing help to reach the playoffs.
“We sit back and wait, right? Davis offered. “It’s my first time dealing with that so I don’t know. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it.”
PLAYS NOT MADE: Head coach Mike Tomlin refused to cite officiating as responsible for the outcome.
His players did the same.
“I never want to say that penalties ever make a game,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We had clear opportunities to win the game and we didn’t seize those moments, and that’s what good teams do.
“I think we’re a good team but we have to make those critical adjustments and those critical stops when we need them.”
Guard David DeCastro lamented consecutive fourth-quarter positions that ended with a fumble by running back Stevan Ridley at the Saints’ 34 and a fake punt that came up 1 yard short and gave New Orleans possession at the Steelers’ 46.
The Steelers could have built on their 28-24 lead in either instance but didn’t.
“I thought we could have put it away earlier, and we didn’t,” DeCastro said. “We didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Fake punt, fumble, just unfortunate plays. We had a couple of games like that, we just found ways to lose.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST: The initial step toward reaching the postseason will be to beat Cincinnati this Sunday at Heinz Field in the regular-season finale.
Accomplishing that, the Steelers can win the division if Cleveland wins at Baltimore or earn a wild card if Indianapolis and Tennessee tie.
“We have to come into work and just control what we control,” guard Ramon Foster said. “It’s not a matter of feeling sorry, it’s a matter of we kind of caused it, we have to live with it and that’s just that.
“All we have is a chance, we’ll see what happens. We still have to go play Cincinnati and get a win. You never know what can happen.”
Added defensive end Stephon Tuitt: “It’s life, you gotta move forward.It’s unfortunate now, we have to hope, but at the end of the day we have to move forward. We’re all men in here. We all have to accept what we put ourselves in.
“We’ll prepare as if we’re going to be ready to go to the big dance. We’ll let circumstances after that determine things.”
THEY SAID IT: “We’re going to need a little bit of help but if we get into the playoffs, we get into the playoffs and I like our chances against anybody.” _ Heyward
“Never a Cleveland Browns fan, just hope they play good ball.” _ Foster
“We just didn’t finish this year, that’s all it is. At the end of the day we still have an opportunity.” _ Tuitt