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Season-shaping plays: Interception ends any chance of Steelers' comeback in playoff loss

This is the final in a series that looks at 17 plays that shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season – one from every game.

For this series, we went in chronological order.

No. 1: Running back Le’Veon Bell’s 38-yard touchdown scamper in a 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns.

No, 2: Wide receiver Justin Brown’s lost fumble after a 6-yard reception in a 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 3: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones’ sack of quarterback Cam Newton for an 8-yard loss in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

No. 4: Wide receiver Antonio Brown’s drop of a sure touchdown pass in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. 5: Cornerback Brice McCain’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

No. 6: Cornerback Cortez Allen getting beat for a 51-yard touchdown catch by Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.

No. 7: Running back Bell ’s 43-yard reception in a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.

No. 8: Cornerback William Gay ’s 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

No. 9: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton’s 47-yard touchdown catch in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 10: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rare and untimely interception in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets.

No. 11: Bell’s 5-yard touchdown run in a 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

No. 12: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills’ 69-yard touchdown catch in a 35-32 win over the Steelers.

No. 13: Outside linebacker Arthur Moats’ fumble recovery in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 14: Gay’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Steelers’ 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

No. 15: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s forced fumble in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

No. 16: Steelers lose Bell to a knee injury in a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 17: Roethlisberger’s short pass attempt turns into disaster and halts Steelers’ comeback bid.

The setting: The Steelers had battled back from a double-digit deficit in their AFC wild-card game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Even after the Ravens answered a Roethlisberger touchdown pass with a field goal, the Steelers only trailed 23-15 when they got the ball back with just under 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The play: The Steelers were facing a third-and-4 from their 26-yard line when Roethlisberger, under pressure, tried to dump off a pass to running back Ben Tate. The ball clanged off the hands of Tate, who had signed with the Steelers earlier that week, and into the arms of Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. A short return set up the Ravens at the Steelers’ 21-yard line.

What it meant for the bigger picture: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore on the next play and Baltimore went on to beat the Steelers in the playoffs for the first time, 30-17. The absence of Bell – the All-Pro running back did not play against the Ravens because of a hyperextended knee – showed his importance to the Steelers’ offense. It also magnified the Steelers’ need to find a quality back to play behind Bell. Roethlisberger took the blame for the interception that killed the Steelers’ chances of rallying past the Ravens at Heinz Field. But it hit Tate right in the hands, and maybe Tate catches it if he had more than a week to practice with the Steelers. The Steelers, however, were forced to play Tate significant snaps against the Ravens because he was more proven than rookie running backs Josh Harris and Dri Archer. The Steelers need Harris to emerge as their No. 2 back – and for Archer to become more of a weapon in the offense and return game – or bring in another player who is capable of spelling Bell and carrying the load when he is out. And Bell is likely to serve a one-game suspension at the beginning of next season because of his August arrest for marijuana possession and driving under the influence.