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Steelers can't overcome Ravens, themselves in wild-card loss

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated time of possession in the first two quarters of their AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Yet they trailed 10-9 at halftime, and their inability to finish conjured up memories of their most recent loss, a 35-32 defeat the visiting New Orleans Saints laid on the Steelers three days after Thanksgiving.

Sure enough, the Steelers are home for the rest of the playoffs, in part because they relied too much on Shaun Suisham's right leg, accurate as it is, early in the game.

Suisham booted three field goals before the Steelers found the end zone on a damp night at Heinz Field, and that proved to be costly in a 30-17 loss to the Ravens. After the Ravens advanced to the divisional round, it was fair to wonder if the outcome would have been different, had star running back Le'Veon Bell been able to play in the third meeting between the AFC North rivals this season.

Bell, who led the AFC with 1,361 rushing yards, did not play against the Ravens because of a hyperextended right knee.

Not that coach Mike Tomlin would be party to anything that went near that notion, even though a player as dynamic as Bell could have been the difference between the Steelers' scoring touchdowns and settling for field goals.

"We're not going to let that be the story of the game," Tomlin said after the Steelers' first loss in four playoff games against the Ravens. "Somebody goes down, the next man steps up. You move on, and there will be no excuses. We're not going to allow you to push us in that direction. We're not going to lean on that."

Nor should they because the reality is this: The Steelers lost their third consecutive postseason game dating to the 2010 Super Bowl because they beat themselves as much as the Ravens beat them.

Reliable tight end Heath Miller dropped a pass on the Steelers' opening possession that forced a punt when a field goal could've been attempted.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put a little too much air under a pass to a wide-open Antonio Brown early in the second quarter. That gave free safety Darian Stewart just enough time to push Brown out of bounds before he could get both feet down in the end zone, and the Steelers eventually settled for a short field goal.

Then there were the penalties.

The Steelers had eight of them for 114 yards. To give those figures the kind of context that won't go down well with Steelers fans' Sunday breakfast, consider Pittsburgh had seven penalties for 104 yards in their previous four games combined.

The penalties Saturday ranged from untimely to flat-out stupid.

Shamarko Thomas belted kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, who was going out of bounds early in the fourth quarter after the Steelers had cut the Ravens' lead to five. The unnecessary roughness penalty gave Baltimore the ball at its own 37 instead of its 22-yard line.

A holding penalty against left tackle Kelvin Beachum later in the quarter nullified a 19-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by Dri Archer.

The fans at Heinz Field howled when Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake got called for pass interference after tight coverage in the second quarter -- and when officials did not throw a flag later in the quarter when Lardarius Webb tripped Martavis Bryant.

Officials ruled the two had gotten their legs tangled, even though Bryant had gotten a step on Webb in the middle of the field.

But just like Tomlin on the Steelers not having Bell, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey did not want to hear anything about the discrepancy in penalties, even though the Ravens were penalized just twice for 14 yards.

"Officiating happens. We're not blaming officials," Pouncey said. "We just didn't execute. You've got to give [the Ravens] credit, but it sucks, man."

What magnified that feeling even more is the Steelers thought they had the kind of team that could make a run at the Super Bowl, after they won their final four regular-season games to capture the AFC North title.

"This team's not going to be the same next year," Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said, "and it breaks my heart."