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The NFL’s longest season was just a little too long for Steelers fans

Everyone just assumed the Steelers were in the playoffs after everything that took place during the 1 p.m. slate of games. Unfortunately, the Raiders and Chargers almost gave Steeler Nation a new kind of heartbreak on Sunday Night Football.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What’s that saying about not counting your chickens before they’re hatched?

If you were anything like me (and judging by social media, texts and phone calls, you were), you already had that playoff bonus spent the second Chris Boswell’s field goal went through the uprights at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, giving the Steelers a crucial 16-13 Week-18 overtime victory over the Ravens to close out the regular season.

I can’t say I blame you for feeling like the postseason was a sure thing for the Steelers. Heck, the heavy lifting had seemingly already been done. The Jaguars actually wiped the floor with the Colts. The Steelers won, of course.

The only outcome left to be determined was the one involving the Raiders and Chargers on Sunday Night Football out in the desert, a clash that would bring to a close the longest regular season in NFL history. There had been 18 weeks in an NFL season before, but there had never been 17 actual regular-season games on the schedule until 2021.

Maybe you didn’t want to watch Sunday Night Football. After all, some of us have to get up super early for work, and sometimes it’s better to get your football fix when the sun is still shining.

Anyway, the reason you had to stay up and watch the Raiders/Chargers season finale was because Pittsburgh’s playoff spot wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. You see, the only outcome that would have prevented the Steelers from punching their playoff ticket was a tie, but what were the odds of that actually happening?

With that in mind, the only thing I rooted for as I took in the Raiders and Chargers contest was a score that couldn’t easily be tied. Margins of one, four and nine points were ideal. Spreads of three, seven, eight or 10 were bad.

I thought things were officially in the bag when the Raiders took a 15-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The only way Los Angeles could tie at that point would be by making one extra point and being successful on a two-point conversion.

Would you believe that actually happened, and with zero time on the clock, too?

I can’t speak for you, but I felt like Clark Griswold in A Christmas Vacation when he received his annual holiday bonus in the mail and read it out loud to his entire family.

Those playoff dreams were all mine, I had nurtured them for about six hours up to that point, and for them to suddenly be snatched from my arms just seemed cruel and unusual.

Visions of Steelers Playoff Week were suddenly replaced by visions of Ryan Succop and the field-goal miss that broke Steeler Nation way back in 2013 (the worst win-and-need-help regular-season finale in recent history).

What incentive did the Raiders or Chargers have to try to win the game once it went into overtime? A tie would have made the playoffs a reality for both. Why even try anything too risky during the 10-minute overtime period?

Fortunately, both teams did seem determined to try and win the game, but they just weren’t very good at it, at least over the first eight or nine minutes of overtime.

Thankfully, the Raiders made it into reasonable field-goal range with just seconds remaining, but even as kicker Daniel Carlson lined up from 47 yards away, I half-expected the holder to just take the snap and curl up with the football like a warm pillow on a cold night.

Carlson did attempt the field goal, but it sure did look like it would go wide-right thanks to NBC’s television angle.

It didn’t. The kick was true. The Steelers were officially in the playoffs hours after they were unofficially in the playoffs.

I’ve always been an advocate of more football, but even too much of a good thing can be bad for your heart.