Going into the final game of the season last year, the Steelers needed to not only defeat the Dolphins in Miami, but they needed A LOT of help to get into the postseason. I don't remember the exact scenarios, but if the Texans, Ravens, Jets and Broncos all lost or at least if some of them did in specific combinations, the Steelers would sneak into the playoffs.
Well, later on in the day, things were looking very good for the Steelers. Late in their game in Miami, they were up, 27-10, and in Houston, the Patriots were winning, 28-14, over the Texans heading into the 4th quarter. That was great because if the Texans lost, then all that the Steelers would need would be either a Ravens loss in Oakland or a Jets loss in Cincinnati to clinch a playoff berth. But much like most of 2009, the Steelers almost blew the game in the 4th quarter as the Dolphins scored two quick touchdowns before falling short, 30-24. And in Houston, the Texans came all the way back and defeated the Patriots to stay in the hunt for the postseason and put the Steelers' playoff chances on serious life support. At that point, the Steelers needed the Ravens, Bronocs, and Jets to all lose. A fairly tall order.
As I was driving home from work that day, I didn't feel like celebrating Pittsburgh's victory. I knew the team's playoff chances had just taken a serious blow with the Texans' come from behind win and it was just a matter of hoping and praying at that point.
That tall order was never filled as the Ravens and Jets both won their games to clinch the last two playoff spots in the AFC and it was another post-Super Bowl absence from the postseason for our Steelers.
Yesterday's close, and controversial victory in Miami also had that bitter-sweet feel to it. I'm not going to get into any game analysis because I'm sure that will be covered quite nicely by smarter people than me. But I do want to say that in no way should the Steelers have tried to go for a touchdown on 4th and goal after they were given new life on the controversial call in the endzone with 2:30 left. Believe me, the Steelers were very fortunate to get that ball back and any time you have a chance to take the lead late in a football game, you do it and you put the game in the hands of the defense. Speaking of that controversial call, I think it was pretty obvious that Roethlisberger lost control of the football before it crossed the plain of the goalline, and the Dolphins probably recovered the fumble, but the referee was right, there really was no way to know for sure because it was just a huge pile of humanity. Besides, the sideline official signaled touchdown so it that was as good as blowing the whistle and who knows how some of the Steelers may have reacted if they thought it was a fumble and not a touchdown. And just to show you that some people see only what they want to see, right after the referee announced his decision that Roethlisberger indeed fumbled, but Pittsburgh was getting the ball back on a technicality, my brother texted me and said, "WE GOT ROBBED! THAT WAS A TOUCHDOWN!" And I texted him back and said, "YOU ARE CRAZY! WE GOT LUCKY!"
But I digress. The reason yesterday's game had that bitter-sweet feel to it wasn't because of the play of the team, it was because of the rash of injuries that they suffered before game's end. As I was watching the game, I noticed rookie Jason Worilds was playing in place of Woodley. I didn't realize he was hurt at first because I missed the first few minutes of the contest due to my television going down for the count. Anyway, he was out with a hamstring injury. Brett Keisel was already out of the game with a strained hamstring. And then The Hotel, Flozell Adams, left with an ankle sprain. But the sickest feeling was seeing defensive end Aaron Smith, maybe the second most important component in the team's defense, heading to the lockerroom with his arm wrapped in ice. He suffered season-ending bicep-tears in two of the last three seasons, and I was fearing the worst the rest of the game. Eventually, Woodley and Kiesel will be able to return from their injuries, and we'll have to wait and see on Adams, and Jonathon Scott looked okay filling in for him, but how badly was Smith's injury? Was it a tear? I sat there watching that game, praying for the Steelers to pull it out, but in the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think of the injuries, especially to Smith.
After the game, I saw a report that Smith, indeed, suffered a muscle tear, this time to his triceps. It looks like it may be season-ending. That is a devastating blow. Smith doesn't get many sacks, but he dominates offensive linemen and allows the linebackers to wreak havoc in the backfield. And he's maybe the best 3-4 defensive end at playing the run. I don't think it's a coincidence that every time Smith is out, the Steelers defense has a little more trouble against the run.
As I said yesterday, you never know who is going to get hurt, and Smith's replacement will have huge shoes to fill. On the positive side of things, Ziggy Hood appears to be a little more ready and capable than he was last year, and even though he's not in Smith's class, I think it's time for the team's 2009 number 1 pick to step up and show what he's made of. The Steelers need him now more than ever. His ability to fill in for Smith for possibly the rest of the year will be vital as the team looks to get back to the postseason in 2010. Let's hope Evander is up to the task.