"We did things to give us a chance to win the game, but I blew it." - Ben Roethlisberger
The Pittsburgh Steelers watched quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw a game ending interception for the second week in a row, but this time it stung much more.
Despite a fantastic effort by their aging defense, the struggling Steelers saw their playoff hopes evaporate in the fourth quarter after the division rival Cincinnati Bengals capitalized off of Roethlisberger's turnover with a game winning 43-yard field goal. The final score was 13-10.
During a day in which the Steelers celebrated the 40th anniversary of the "Immaculate Reception", the Steelers were eliminated from playoff contention for the second time in four seasons.
"I don't know what hurts more; my body or my pride," Roethlisberger said.
Call it the "Emasculate Interception."
It was a stunning yet fitting end to the 2012 season for the Steelers. Roethlisberger hasn't been the same since coming back from his rib/shoulder injury suffered against Kansas City on Nov. 12. In fact, the Steelers are 0-3 since his return and are 1-5 in their past six games.
So who is to blame for the great Steelers collapse of 2012? At the beginning of the season you may be able to point to the defense that appeared to be fading before our very eyes. With star safety Troy Polamalu sitting on the sidelines for seven games, the NFL's premier defense began to look ordinary for the first time in recent memory. But as the year continued, the defense soon found its stride after a healthy Polamalu returned and helped restore order.
That brings us to the offense.
After terminating offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (who is now the playoff bound Colts interim head coach) the Steelers turned to former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Steeler nation felt it was a safe bet with the hire of Haley ensured the once pass heavy Arians' offense would be replaced in favor of the old school smash mouth style of Steeler football -- running the ball down the other team's throat. However, the Steelers personnel in the back field proved to be as ineffective as their defense looked at the beginning of the season.
With Steelers' leading rusher Rashad Mendenhall injured for the first half of the year the team found some midseason success with Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer running the ball. When Mendenhall returned to the lineup, along with Dwyer and Redman, the running game suddenly became incredibly inconsistent. Combine this inconsistency with a season of Roethlisberger constantly taking Haley to task over the team's inability to generate a balanced offensive attack (see "dink-and-dunk offense"), and it's no wonder that Pittsburgh will be watching the playoffs from home this year.
"We should be [going to the playoffs] if it wasn't for me," Roethlisberger said.
The always seemingly playoff bound Steelers have some major issues heading into next season as Roethlisberger will turn 31 and knows his window is beginning to shrink. The defense is getting old. They lack a true starting running back. For the sake of Steeler nation let's hope this is just a blip and not a trend in the coming years for Pittsburgh's favorite sons.
Zachary Hutton is the lead boxing writer and an NFL contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can see what he's up to at his band's website myunclethewolf.com or also subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
Photo Credit: Getty