PITTSBURGH (AP) — The win they needed but at times didn’t act like they particularly wanted finally secured T. J. Watt Jersey
, the Pittsburgh Steelers lingered on the over Cincinnati on Sunday and turned their eyes to the massive videoboard in the south end zone.A season filled with promise six weeks ago before things came undone boiled down to something entirely out of Pittsburgh’s control: whether Cleveland could pull off a stunning rally in Baltimore.As a decidedly out-of-place chant of “Let’s Go Browns” reverberated and Cleveland marched into Ravens‘ territory, a third straight AFC North for the Steelers seemed possible.Then Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a late pick. The Ravens held on. Optimism evaporated. Replaced by a mix of harsh reality and a hint of wistfulness.Article continues below ...The Steelers (9-6-1) firmly believe they would be a tough out in the playoffs. Instead, they won’t get the chance. The team that appeared assured of a fifth consecutive playoff berth following a six-game midseason winning streak instead will miss the postseason for the first time since 2013 after Indianapolis beat Tennessee later Sunday to lock down the final wild-card spot.“It just sucks,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said. “How hard we work, how much effort we put in. To go from 7-2-1 to where we are now is heartbreaking.”And avoidable. Yet four losses in five games — all of which the Steelers led at some point in the second half — forced them to enter Week 17 needing to beat the injury ravaged Bengals and a hope surging Cleveland could upset the Ravens on the road.“It’s just tough,” said Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who ran for 64 yards in his return to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained left ankle. “We’re relying on somebody else to advance.”The team that stressed it wouldn’t spend all afternoon scoreboard watching certainly looked distracted as Cincinnati took a 10-3 halftime lead. Pittsburgh eventually rallied behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who threw for 287 yards and a touchdown despite missing injured star receiver Antonio Brown to finish with a career-best and NFL-high 5,129 yards passing — and new kicker Matt McCrane booted three field goals, the last a 35-yarder with 1:56 to go that put the Steelers ahead to stay.Pittsburgh held on when Cincinnati backup quarterback Jeff Driskel’s fourth-down pass intended for Josh Malone fell incomplete with 1:08 to go. Roethlisberger then took a pair of knees to run out the clock, setting the stage for the bizarre sight of the Steelers and thousands of black-and-gold clad fans cheering on the Browns.For a few anxious minutes, the dominoes appeared to be falling into place. When they didn’t, Pittsburgh didn’t place blame on Cleveland but countless missed opportunities.“It just makes me mad that as a leader of this group, we put ourselves in this situation like this, looking for others to do our job,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “Cleveland played a heck of a game … it’s frustrating and as a leader of this group it’s just unacceptable.”Roethlisberger vowed to return for a 16th season. He turns 37 in March and doesn’t think Pittsburgh’s window is closing as long as the offensive line in front of him remains intact.“I still feel good,” he said. “We keep that line together, that’ll give us a good fighting chance.”MARVIN’S MURKY FUTUREJoe Mixon rushed for 105 yards for the Bengals but Cincinnati (6-10) — which entered Sunday with 18 players on injured reserve Jack Butler Jersey
, including quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green— lost for the seventh time in eight games and head into another offseason unsure about the future of longtime head coach Marvin Lewis.Cincinnati’s season turned at home against the Steelers back in October, when the Bengals let Pittsburgh go down the field in the final minute to pull out a 28-21 victory on Antonio Brown’s 31-yard catch and run with 10 seconds to play. An avalanche of injuries and losses followed. Lewis headed to the locker room surrounded by cameras, which he found “ridiculous” after his beat-up squad took the Steelers basically to the wire.“I think it’s sad (my status) is the only thing they can point to,” Lewis said. “This isn’t about me. This is about this football team and what they do. To make this about one person. It’s not about one person. This is my job. That’s it.”INJURIESBengals: WR Cody Core left late in the first quarter with a left elbow injury. Core was hurt while diving for a pass deep down the left sideline. … LT Cordy Glenn injured his left ankle after getting rolled up on during a scrum following fumble by Driskel in the third quarter. Safety Brandon Wilson left in the second half with a chest injury and tight end Matt Lengel exited with a left knee issue.Steelers: Brown missed his first game of the season while dealing with a knee injury. Pittsburgh also sat starting safety Sean Davis (quadriceps) and inside linebacker Vince Williams (toe).UP NEXTBengals: Owner Mike Brown will meet with Lewis to decide whether a 17th season is in the offing for the winning coach in franchise history.Steelers: While head coach Mike Tomlin is on firm ground, changes to the coaching staff could be made. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unit struggled to create turnovers and the special teams were a mess under coordinator Danny Smith. The NFL would love the main focus of 2019 to be on the celebrations of its 100th season.Sorry.While the history of the league is a widespread and fun topic, what happened last January in the NFC championship game has guaranteed the spotlight will be shining on officiating and replays.After an egregious missed penalty (or two) that basically kept the Saints from making the Super Bowl and helped the Rams get there instead, there was little chance attention could be diverted from the guys with the whistles and their impact on games. Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league’s powerful competition committee and a vast majority of the owners recognized this — and did something about it.Coaches can now challenge pass interference calls and non-calls as part of the replay review system. Just as with other in-game instances, the replay booth will initiate any reviews in the final two minutes of both halves and for an entire overtime.As former NFL defensive back Adam Archuleta, now a CBS game analyst, notes: “They have opened a huge can of worms.”Sure, the Browns‘ upgrades — some people envision Cleveland (yes, Cleveland) as a Super Bowl contender — provide a ripe subject. So do the head coaching changes, including Bruce Arians returning to the sideline one year after retiring.There are the aged quarterbacks, from 42-year-old Tom Brady to 40-year-old Drew Brees to late-thirtysomethings Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. And the fledging QBs such as Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold Joe Greene Jersey
, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray.Don’t forget those big stars in new places: Le’Veon Bell, Odell Beckham Jr., Earl Thomas and Antonio Brown.And let’s ignore Brown’s helmet complaints and frost-bitten digits.But we all know what will hog the limelight.INTERFERING WITH REPLAYGene Steratore spent 13 years as an NFL referee and also was a college basketball official. Now with CBS as an officiating analyst, he knew some sort of change in the review system would emerge from the Rams-Saints debacle.“Understand first that they were making the call in real time,” Steratore says. “That will remain the standard and base on which calls will be made on all plays. Then we get to replays, which are in slow motion of course, and you are getting a different look (than an official might get in real time).“Then there is the determination of what is significant contact. Did it impede someone from making a play? Was it incidental? Some of that is adding subjectivity to the process.”Archuleta, not surprisingly for a former safety, adamantly disagrees with adding anything to the replay system, particularly pass interference penalties.“It’s not good for the game, which is not meant to be played in slow motion or officiated that way,” he says. “I don’t want them stopping games in critical moments. Pro football is an exciting and emotional sport and stoppages take away from that.”A realist, Archuleta admits he knew something would happen after the New Orleans debacle. He accepts the coaches’ challenge as the most logical means, but doesn’t have to like it.The addition of pass interference will change the strategies for using challenges. An early false spotting of the ball, for example, might not see a red flag thrown because a coach realizes a late DPI or OPI call or non-call would be far more impactful. Indeed, there might be fewer overall disruptions by challenges as coaches save them for second-half needs that maybe never arrive.“Coaches are going to get burned on this Terrell Edmunds Jersey
, challenge plays that will not be overturned because of judgments, and they will be minus a timeout or a challenge later in the game,” says Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy. “I think it is going to be a mess.”CAN ANYBODY PLAY DEFENSE?With spread offenses overtaking the college game — and college defenses — it was only a matter of time before scoring records fell in the pros. Nothing much is expected to change this season with rules designed to boost points production; players on that side of the ball better prepared for the NFL when they reach it; and fans’ insatiable appetite for shootouts. Fantasy football fanatics can rejoice.Still, the Super Bowl final score was 13-3, and there are several teams whose defenses successfully can determine their fate. The Rams, Chargers, Ravens, Bears, Cowboys and Bills could fall into that category.Chicago, which led the league with 27 interceptions in ’18, believes the Monsters of the Midway have been reborn. The Bears are primed to prove it.“Takeaways on the field and the practice field correlate to takeaways on the field in the game as well,” star edge rusher Khalil Mack says. “You know what I mean? So it goes hand in hand. When you work on taking away the ball in practice, naturally it happens in the game.”OLD QBS, KID QBSBrady and Brees and Roethlisberger and Rivers and Manning equal 194 years of age, 87 seasons in the NFL. Each of them remains the starter, though Manning’s hold on the Giants‘ job is tenuous.It’s fair to think that, except for Manning Maurkice Pouncey Jersey
, seeing any of those four oldies but goodies in the Super Bowl next February — particularly Brady, who is going for an unprecedented seventh Lombardi Trophy — would be no shock.“I’m ready to go this year and that’s really what matters. That’s where my focus is,” Brady says. “It’s a unique situation I’m in. I’m in my 20th year with the same team. I’m 42 years old, so pretty much uncharted territory I think for everybody. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can this year and see what happens.”At the other end of the maturity chart are the youngsters. We’ve already seen one prodigy, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, mesmerize the league and win MVP honors in his second year, first as a starter. Now the spotlight could be taken by Cleveland’s Mayfield or the Jets’ Darnold or the Ravens’ Jackson , pro sophomores whose team’s ascensions depend largely on their further progress.CHANGES ON THE SIDELINEEight clubs jumped on the coaching carousel, including one head man swapping teams as Adam Gase went from the Dolphins to the Jets. Also new on the job are Brian Flores (Miami), Zac Taylor (Cincinnati), Freddie Kitchens (Cleveland), Vic Fangio (Denver), Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona), Matt LaFleur (Green Bay) and Arians (Tampa Bay).Most intriguing might be the new boss with the Bucs, a proven QB guru who tries to mold Jameis Winston into a winner in a prove-it year for the 2015 top overall draftee.“I’m going to work regardless, but it’s always a plus when your head coach believes in you,” Winston says of the 66-year-old Arians. “Every coach brings something different. I’m just really excited to get to work with them.”CHANGES ON THE FIELDNew faces in new places figure to have a major impact Cameron Heyward Jersey
, and if those effects are positive, their teams could be playoff bound.Bell would seem the perfect guy to bring in to help Darnold make the next big step. Following a year off in a holdout, Bell will be driven to prove he’s worth the money the Jets paid and the Steelers would not. At his best, there’s no better all-around running back in football.When healthy and at his best, Thomas finds the right spot to be in — and gets his defensive teammates in those positions, too. There are few stronger leaders in the game, and he also has extra motivation after the way things deteriorated in Seattle.Beckham is a magnificent talent with baggage and a fragile psyche. If he is the playmaker and not the pouter, the Browns have a prize.As for Brown, well, the numbers he’s produced for nearly a decade can’t be ignored. Unfortunately, neither can the drama he has brought from the Steelers to the Raiders.But it does keep us watching, doesn’t it?