PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' players, shell-shocked though they may have been after blowing a must-win game and then nearly winning it on a miracle play, were very much in touch with reality following a 34-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field.
What made the locker room so quiet following the Steelers’ seventh loss of the season was what their reality is after losing to the Dolphins in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1990.
“It probably cost us a chance of winning the Super Bowl,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
Sanders’ teammates didn’t frame the bitter loss -- and its implications -- in as stark of terms, but they all pretty much echoed similar sentiments. The playoffs aren’t much more realistic to the Steelers than Santa Claus right now, and that is because, first and foremost, they haven’t done anything to suggest they will win their final three games to get to 8-8.
As cornerback Ike Taylor said, “When you’re consistent at being inconsistent, big plays happen and you get the 5-8 record.”
Even if the Steelers reel off three consecutive wins to end the season, they would need so much to happen to sneak into the playoffs. The Ravens and Dolphins are each two games ahead of the Steelers with three to play, and both hold advantages in the tiebreakers that matter as well.
“If we win three and some things fall our way, then good,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “But the biggest thing is continuing to play, continuing to play hard, continuing to understand that we’re here to do a job.”
A disconsolate Ben Roethlisberger offered the same pledge that he has after deflating losses earlier this season.
“We aren’t going to quit,” the quarterback said. “We are going to keep playing, come back tomorrow and get ready to go.”
Whether an organization that expects to contend for the Super Bowl every year can muster any enthusiasm for the final three weeks of a second non-winning season in a row remains to be seen. But the Steelers have vowed to fight, vowed to act like professionals and, above all, vowed to do anything but play out the string.
“In my mind we’ve still got a chance,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “Until they say we’re done with our season, we’re going to go out there and fight. It doesn’t matter who it is, they better be ready to play us.”
The Bengals, Packers and Browns should consider themselves warned.