Troy Polamalu didn’t want to talk about it.
His vintage, not to mention gravity-testing somersault into the end zone on a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter turned momentum swiftly in Pittsburgh’s favor at snowy Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon. Then it was relegated to a mere footnote in a 34-28 defeat that all but sank whatever postseason hopes the Steelers were clinging to.
“What does it matter?” Polamalu said. “We lost.”
The game. The season. And maybe just the latest golden era of one of the NFL’s most successful franchises.
The Steelers (5-8) are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with three weeks remaining, the earliest they’ve been out of it since finishing 6-10 a decade ago. Three mostly meaningless games remain starting next weekend against Cincinnati, a stretch that could serve as a long goodbye for familiar faces who have a Super Bowl ring or two tucked away somewhere.
Though Polamalu remains under contract in 2014, fellow safety and close friend Ryan Clark is not. And the 34-year-old certainly sounded like he is eyeing the exit door after the Steelers allowed the Dolphins to go 80 yards in four plays late in the fourth quarter to take the lead for good.
“Everybody’s time comes,” Clark said. “For me, I just want to enjoy it, keep playing.”
It’s a sentiment echoed throughout the locker room, one the Steelers have found themselves repeating far too often this fall. They did it during an 0-4 start. They did it after getting pounded in a record-setting loss to New England in late October. They did it again while quietly dressing after a defeat that had all the hallmarks of a season that never seemed to get off the ground.
The defense allowed a trio of big plays, including a 55-yard run by Daniel Thomas that set up Charles Clay’s winning 12-yard touchdown with 2:53 to go. The offense committed penalties on consecutive snaps in the fourth quarter with the Steelers at midfield hoping to close it out. The special teams allowed a punt to be partially blocked and did little in the return game.
“We understood what was at stake in terms of us and this football game, specifically,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ll take responsibility for whatever transpires. We understand the gravity of these moments.”
And now Tomlin finds himself with one of the more pressing tasks of his still young coaching career: finding a way to keep focused a room full of guys used to playing for something this time of year.
Cornerback Ike Taylor insists it won’t be a problem even while allowing he is “frustrated” and “hurt” that the Steelers are assured of consecutive non-winning seasons for just the second time since 1986.
“When you’ve consistently been inconsistent? .500 record,” Taylor said.
Actually, that’s being generous. Pittsburgh needs to win its final three games to get back to break even, a daunting task considering the way the AFC North leading Bengals (9-4) are playing at the moment.
Cincinnati won the first meeting 20-10 back in Week 2. Not much has changed over the last three months. The Bengals remain young and hungry. The Steelers still look like they’re trying to figure it out.
Pittsburgh appeared on its way early against the Dolphins. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell spearheaded a long touchdown drive that gave the Steelers an early lead. Yet Bell was largely invisible in the second half, carrying the ball just five times.
When pressed on why Bell wasn’t more involved, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suggested talking to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Roethlisberger has never been through a losing season in his life. Not in high school, not in college at Miami (Ohio) and not in 10 seasons with the Steelers. It’s a personal point of pride for the two-time Super Bowl winner, one he expects his teammates to hold close to their hearts too.
“We are just going to give it everything we have every day,” Roethlisberger said. “There isn’t going to be any quit from anybody.”
Troy Polamalu didn’t want to talk about it.
Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup
Ryan Braun homered in the ninth inning to tie it, then Khris Davis hit a home run in the 14th that put Milwaukee ahead for good.
Yet those were hardly the big blows that attracted all the attention Sunday in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Football team ends boycott of embattled coach
Minnesota State University-Mankato’s football team has ended its boycott of reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, who successfully fought child pornography charges and other misconduct accusations that removed him from the job for 20 months.
Hoffner said he assured the players, who refused to take the practice field Wednesday, that interim coach Aaron Keen, who led the team in Hoffner’s absence, will continue in a major role with the team.
Game 3 pivotal for both teams
Not so long ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the worst team in the NHL.
Now they’re heading home for tonight’s Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to make even more history.
Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT
Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.
Brewers rally to clip Pirates
Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.
Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon
The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897. Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.
UPJ takes one, drops second
John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.
Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid
Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.
Drama lacking sans Tiger
If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
The course was there in all its splendor.
Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
- More Sports Headlines
- Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup