By Mike Prisuta
They understand what happened to them, how a promising, 6-2 start degenerated into a profoundly disappointing 9-7 finish that ultimately denied the Steelers an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl championship in the playoffs.
Why it happened is another matter entirely.
"Not enough winning," linebacker James Farrior observed.
That was especially the case during a five-game losing streak from Nov. 15 through Dec. 10 that dropped the Steelers to 6-7 and left them no longer in control of their postseason fate.
They were able to rally and win their final three games, including Sunday's regular season finale at Miami, 30-24. But the particulars of how they became susceptible to such a profound midseason meltdown remain a mystery to most Steelers.
"We felt like we had control," Farrior said. "We felt like we were being the team we wanted to be and were going in the right direction. We were shocked (by the losing streak). Everybody was a little surprised and taken back by it."
And nobody had a definitive answer as to why it happened in the visitor's locker room at Land Shark Stadium.
"You can't put your finger on it," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "Every game seemed like we were in it. We just didn't close them."
"I can't pinpoint why," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We lost a lot of close games. We're accustomed to winning those close games."
Added free safety Ryan Clark, "I don't know, man, I guess we went out to lunch."
The Steelers will have an offseason that's commenced ahead of schedule to sort out the details.
"It was one of those funky years," offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "All you can do is learn from it."
Three interceptions registered against Miami, one each from cornerbacks Townsend and Ike Taylor and one from Clark, and sacks by linebackers LaMarr Woodley (two) and Lawrence Timmons (one) helped confirm what Coach Mike Tomlin already maintained about the manner in which big plays made at the right times affect the outcome of games.
"In the last three games we made timely plays," Tomlin said. "In the five prior to that we didn't; same football team.
"That's how fragile it is in the NFL. That's how fine a line it is in the NFL. We respect that, we know that. I think that knowledge enabled us to continue to fight and win the last three games."
If there's any solace to be taken in missing the playoffs, it is that the Steelers at least finished strong.
"Let's be real, there are a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 or whatever faced with the circumstances this group of men was faced with," Tomlin said. "They knuckled down, hung together and did the best of their ability to fix it."
But such solace falls short of salvaging a season that failed to meet expectations.
"It's not about moral victories," Tomlin said. "We have a singular goal every year and that's to be world champs. We understand that there are 32 teams vying for it; there can only be one.
"I've been in this league nine years, man, seven times I've been disappointed. That's the reality of it."
Why? The question with no answer
By Mike Prisuta