The Steelers did what they needed to do on Sunday, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-13, at Heinz Field.
After the Steelers won, Heinz Field remained packed, including players from both teams on the field watching the end of the Browns-Ravens game on the scoreboard, an emotional rollercoaster of big plays by the Browns at the end but it wouldn't be enough as a Baker Mayfield interception on fourth down ended it all.
The Steelers still have a sliver of hope for the postseason if the Titans and Colts tie, but chances are they will head into the postseason a disappointed team, but one that never quit, never gave up.
"I appreciate the effort," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We controlled the things that were in our control today. I can't say enough about the efforts of the guys, particularly guys like Matt (McCrane) coming in on a moving train and kicking the way he did today. We accept the outcome. We had 17 weeks to state a case for ourselves, we stand by our work. You have to in this business. I am appreciative of the efforts today. We'll assess tomorrow and move forward. Hard fought game today. Appreciative of the efforts. Its tough, the end result of it all, as it always is."
Matt McCrane, who was signed on Friday after Chris Boswell was placed on injured reserve, hit three field goals, including the game-winner from 35 yards out.
"A couple days ago I was at home playing golf and preparing to get a call," said McCrane. "It's been a month since I kicked in an NFL game. To get out and make the first field goal was big. And to go three-for-three as well. It was an unreal feeling. Pittsburgh would be an outstanding place to stay. I am not really sure what is going to happen."
Ben Roethlisberger, who finished the season with 5,129 passing yards and became just the seventh quarterback in NFL history to record 5,000 passing yards in a season, was disappointed after the game but also had pride in the job his teammates did.
"I am trying not to reflect right now, but it's hard not to," said Roethlisberger. "I just got done seeing my linemen and so I think pride in my guys, pride in guys that stepped up today that had to move around to different positions. James Washington, his big catch down the sideline was the exact same call he missed in Denver. I am so proud of him."
The defense was dominant all day, holding Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel to just 95 yards passing and sacking him four times, while allowing just 125 yards on the ground, most of that coming in a 51-yard run by Joe Mixon.
The Steelers got the ball to start the game but didn't go far. Roethlisberger was three for three for 22 yards, while James Conner carried the ball four times for 19 yards. On fourth-and-one the Steelers tried to draw the Bengals offsides, without success, and were forced to punt. Jordan Berry backed the Bengals up to their own 10-yard line, but Kam Canaday was called for holding, starting the drive at the 20-yard line.
The defense was ready to go, holding the Bengals to a three-and-out on their opening drive.
The Steelers second drive resulted in only two yards, with Jaylen Samuels getting knocked for a loss of two yards, and picking up four yards on a short completion. On third-and-eight Roethlisberger couldn't connect with Eli Rogers, forcing another punt.
It would be the defense that would step up again. Alex Erickson pulled in a 13-yard reception and Mixon went for two yards, but that would be it for the drive. Anthony Chickilo and Stephon Tuitt combined for a three-yard sack of Driskel. Cam Sutton brought pressure on Driskel on the next play, forcing an incomplete pass and the Bengals had to punt.
The Bengals drew first blood on the Steelers next offensive drive. Roethlisberger was intercepted by Shawn Williams, who returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Struggles on offense continued for the Steelers on the next drive. Roethlisberger hit Conner for seven yards, and Conner followed it with a six-yard gain. Rogers pulled in a 15-yard reception, fumbled, and recovered his own fumble. An incompletion and short pass had the Steelers with a third-and-five. Roethlisberger was sacked for a nine-yard loss, forcing them to punt.
The Bengals added to their lead when they went on a 12-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a 49-yard field goal by Randy Bullock, extending the lead to 10-0.
The Steelers took over with 2:06 to play at their own 45-yard line after Ryan Switzer returned the kick 27 yards. Roethlisberger hit Rogers for nine yards, Xavier Grimble for 16 yards and JuJu Smith-Schuster for 12 yards. Two incompletions and a personal foul call gave the Steelers a third-and-25, and Roethlisberger hit Samuels, but it only went for 12 yards. McCrane made his Steelers debut, nailing a 39-yard field goal, sending the Steelers into halftime only down by a score, 10-3.
The Bengals got the ball to start the second half, and the Steelers defense was ready for them. On third down T.J. Watt sacked Driskel for an eight-yard loss, forcing a fumble that Driskel was able to fall on.
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.
The offense wasn't able to do anything with the ball after the punt and went three-and-out.
The defense kept playing lights out. Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton combined for a five-yard sack of Driskel, and Cameron Heyward added an eight-yard sack, forcing the Bengals to punt again.
Three straight pass attempts on the next drive netted only five yards for the Steelers and again they went three-and-out and were forced to punt.
Coty Sensabaugh broke-up a pass intended for Auden Tate, and Mixon was stopped for no gain. A false start gave the Bengals a third-and-15 from their own 19-yard line, but Driskel's pass to Giovani Bernard went for only nine yards, the defense holding again.
Taking over at their own 26-yard line the offense came to life. Roethlisberger hit James Washington for 47-yards to the Bengals 27-yard line. Conner rattled off a 16-yard run to the 11-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster who took it in the end zone for an 11-yard score, tying the game, 10-10.
Mixon came out running on the Bengals next drive, getting a first down with an eight-yard carry, followed up with a three-yard gain. C.J. Uzomah pulled in a six-yard catch, but on third down Mixon was stopped short of the chains.
Looking to break the tie the Steelers offense went to work. On a third-and-eight Vance McDonald took it for 22 yards on the catch and run. On fourth-and-four Samuels got six yards for the first down. It would be McCrane who would come through hitting a 47-yard field goal, giving the Steelers their first lead, 13-10.
The lead would be short lived. Mixon broke free for a 51-yard gain to the Steelers 15-yard line. The defense stiffened, and Heyward sacked Driskel for a seven-yard loss. The Bengals tied the game, 13-13, when Bullock hit a 32-yard field goal.
Roethlisberger hit Conner for 20 yards on the catch and run and went to Washington for another first down on a 10-yard gain. Conner carried it for two yards, Rogers picked up seven on the reception, and Conner got the first down on a two-yard carry. Roethlisberger avoided a sack but couldn't connect with Jesse James. On third-and-10 Roethlisberger hit Rogers for 10 yards to keep the drive alive. Roethlisberger scrambled for five yards, and on third-and-five only picked up two yards on a completion to Switzer. McCrane came through again, hitting his third field goal of the day, a 35-yarder to give the Steelers a lead they would hold on to for the 16-13.
A look at how they scored:
Second Quarter: Steelers 0, Bengals 7
Scoring Play: Shawn Williams 58-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Second Quarter: Steelers 0, Bengals 10
Scoring Play: Randy Bullock 49-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 12-51-6:31
Second Quarter: Steelers 3, Bengals 10
Scoring Play: Matt McCrane 39-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 9-34-2:12
Third Quarter: Steelers 10, Bengals 10
Scoring Play: Ben Roethlisberger 11-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Scoring Summary: 3-74-1:25
Fourth Quarter: Steelers 13, Bengals 10
Scoring Play: Matt McCrane 47-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 13-48-7:19
Fourth Quarter: Steelers 13, Bengals 13
Scoring Play: Randy Bullock 32-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 5-52-2:18
Fourth Quarter: Steelers 16, Bengals 13
Scoring Play: Matt McCrane 35-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 12-58-4:21