The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2015 campaign came to an end abruptly in Denver as the Broncos beat the Steelers 23-16. Despite missing All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown with a concussion, leading rusher DeAngelo Williams for the second consecutive game, and Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger banged up with a separated shoulder, the Steelers still managed to lead for most of the game until the 3 minute mark in the fourth quarter when the Broncos took advantage of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint's back-breaking fumble.
While many Steelers fans showed love and respect for the team as they went into Denver short-handed and put up a fight, I wonder if this "at least you tried" mentality is good for the team and for the fan base in general. It seems right now there is not much ire within the fan base, and I find that troubling.
The question I have for the fanbase is this: was this a good season?
My answer is no. I am supremely disappointed by this season. Here are the reasons why:
1. The Steelers were winning for most of the divisional round game against the Broncos, meaning the Steelers had a legitimate shot to be playing in the AFC championship game for the first time in five years. It seemed it was going to be the Steelers' day. The Broncos messed up with blown coverages and dropped passes for most of the evening. The Steelers made their fair share of mistakes as well but they were winning for the majority of the game until running back Toussaint fumbled the ball midway through the fourth quarter.
Once that occurred, the defense was not good enough to keep the Broncos out of the end zone as C.J. Anderson powered into the endzone to finish a soul crushing 13-play, 65-yard drive, and the Broncos never looked back. The Steelers will have six months to think about this one. This loss hurts even more than the wild card loss last season because the Steelers had this game in their control in the fourth quarter.
2. The Steelers averaged over 27 points a game during the season but scored all of 34 in their two playoff games. Yes, the offense was playing against two of the top defenses in the league, but this same offense scored 33 and 34 against the Bengals and Broncos just a month ago. The yards were there but the points weren't. You can place the blame on injuries (more on that later) and the pressures of the playoffs, but the fact remains the Steelers under performed offensively, and that is a reason to be angry, not encouraged.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, for the most part, did not play like his regular season self during the playoffs. He threw one touchdown pass in two games (which, by the way, according to league official Dean Blandino, should not have counted). Playoff Big Ben came up little again. Since the Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers, Roethlisberger has gone 1-3 in the playoffs with just three touchdown passes to match three interceptions in four games. While he had another great regular season, his postseason fizzled out again. Yes, he was playing injured but he still threw for over 300 yards against Denver again (the only QB to do so this season), which means he was healthy enough to lead the Steelers to victory.
He fell short. Again.
This time, there was no unnecessary roughness penalty and an unsportsmanlike flag to save the day. As strange as it might sound, the Steelers will never get back to the Super Bowl again if Roethlisberger continues to come up short in January.
4. Injuries. Face it, every team in the league suffers injuries. While there was no doubt the team missed Antonio Brown against the Broncos (especially on special teams), Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Markus Wheaton (as a receiver, not returner), and Martavis Bryant all stepped up admirably. They played well enough for the Steelers to win. This team got over the injury to Maurkice Pouncey. This team went 2-2 without Ben Roethlisberger earlier in the season. This team got even better offensively when Le'Veon Bell went on injured reserve, going six consecutive weeks scoring at least 30 points. This team discovered Alejandro Villanueva is much more than just a good story when Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL. Villanueva showed he is a capable left tackle who will only get better under offensive line coach Mike Munchak's tutelage. This team went through four different kickers. This team survived everything except a fumble by Fitzgerald Toussaint.
That makes me angry.
This team had the offense to make it to the Super Bowl this season, despite all the setbacks. The defense was a liability for most of the season and even they played well during the playoffs (until the fourth quarter of both games). While the future looks bright for the Steelers, this season is still a failure because they could not hang on against Denver when they should have. Because of this, I am not looking toward the future (yet) but seething with anger and inundated with disappointment.
Eventually I will get over the loss and this season, but right now, I am not clapping my hands for the effort in Denver. I am shaking my head in sadness. This is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The standard is winning. The standard was not met and now we have more than six months to think about it.