Steelers vs. Browns: With a team-wide lack of clutch in 2012, Pittsburgh has opportunity to end year on high note

Matt Sullivan

A slew of close games didn't go the Steelers way in 2012, but they have one more chance to show they're capable of making big plays in close games.

I wrote extensively about one of the more underrated clutch Steelers games of recent memory in 2008, a thrilling 20-13 win over Dallas late in the regular season of that year.

That performance was backed up by wins off huge clutch performances in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl.

Clutch performances do not need to come in the playoffs - or even in regular season games that ultimately lead to the playoffs. Not that it matters for the Steelers, they've been anything but clutch the vast majority of the season.

This is most noticeable due to the fact the Steelers have lost five of their last six games, and four of those have been decided by less than a field goal.

A pair of 13-10 losses within the division, to Baltimore and Cincinnati, added with a 20-14 divisional loss to Cleveland and a 27-14 overtime loss to Dallas only make it seem like the Steelers fell a few clutch performances short of what could mathematically be a division championship and a possible three seed in the AFC playoffs.

Instead, the Steelers are playing to avoid their first losing season under Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, and, at best, their worst record since 2006.

Looking back all the way to their Week 1 loss at Denver, when Ben Roethlisberger's interception return for a touchdown all but ended a game (a recurring theme, as it would turn out), the Steelers offense failed to come up with the game-winning drive as often as they failed. They had the ball with the game on the line against Oakland, and Roethlisberger was nearly intercepted on a third-and-long pass when forced to step up in the pocket and make a throw.

They had the ball in eerily similar situations against Tennessee and Cincinnati, fourth-and-four, fourth quarter, in a tie game. In both situations, the Steelers elected to go for long field goals, missing both times. Boo the decision to go for the field goal as much as it warrants, but let's not forget the fact both situations represent failed third down plays prior to the debated kicking decisions.

The half-full side of this is the Steelers got big plays in an overtime win over Kansas City in Week 10 and final play wins over Philadelphia and Baltimore in Weeks 5 and 13, respectively. It hasn't been a complete failure all year; just mostly concentrated in a late season slide in which the Steelers lost, at best, five of their last seven games.

If the season ended today, the Steelers would finish with the No. 14 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It's been a while since the Steelers have been playing a Week 17 game with nothing more than draft positioning riding on it. They haven't been eliminated from playoff contention before Week 17 since at least 2006 (their playoff fate may have been sealed during their eventual overtime win against Cincinnati).

Fitting, a team that did not produce in the clutch all year isn't around to compete for a postseason berth at the end.


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