Steelers season is over: Here’s what went wrong

Another loss to the Jaguars at home, and there’s a lot of blame to go around.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
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Fire everyone. Fire Mike Tomlin for calling one of the worst playoff games in recent memory. Fire Todd Haley, for sure, for one of the most poorly-called offensive game plans in years. Fire Ben Roethlisberger for being unable to beat the Jaguars either time the Steelers hosted them this season. Fire the defense for giving up 38 of the Jags’ 45 points Sunday. Fire everyone.

The Steelers lost to the Jaguars, again. This hurts.

Much was made this week of Roethlisberger possibly playing his last home game in Pittsburgh, but the future hall of famer refused to think about that, probably because he assumed, like we all did, that the Steelers had a shot at New England next week for a berth in the Super Bowl. His last game in Pittsburgh or not (more on that in a bit), Roethlisberger threw the ball 58 times Sunday, completing 37 for 469 yards and five touchdowns. And, somehow, he looked old and slow and downright bad for a lot of the game.

Other times, he looked like the Roethlisberger of old. The Steelers were four-for-six on fourth down, including two incredible fourth-down touchdown passes by Roethlisberger — one on a 36-yard pass to Martavis Bryant and one on a 43-yard pass to Antonio Brown that kept them in the game.

And still, the two fourth downs they missed might be why the Steelers lost.

On fourth and inches with the Steelers down 14-0 they opted to go for it at the Jaguars’ 20 yard line and ran a toss sweep which was totally blown up by the Jacksonville defense. It was a terrible play call, and Roethlisberger was overheard yelling “Thunder” at the line of scrimmage. Was that an audible? Why not just sneak it for half a foot?

Later in the game, with the Steelers again needing less than a yard on fourth down, Roethlisberger yelled “Booster” or “Rooster” before snapping the ball on a play-action pass that was incomplete to JuJu Smith-Schuster, giving the ball back to Jacksonville. Again, a sneak would have done the job. Why not sneak it there?

“I don’t know,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the loss. “It’s been a while since we ran a quarterback sneak. I’m for it. That’s kind of over my head as to why we don’t do it.”

So neither was an audible then. And Roethlisberger wanted it clear they both calls were Haley’s fault.

When pressed on why the Steelers didn’t sneak the ball either time despite his career success in those situations, the quarterback did what he does all the time — threw his offensive coordinator under the bus while simultaneously looking like he was defending him, saying he didn’t know why a sneak wasn’t called either time, before offering, “I’m not going to sit here and second guess and say we lost this game because of those calls.”

But they might have. Well, those two, and the other turnovers.

The reason Roethlisberger said this week he wanted another shot at Jacksonville was because he laid a five-interception egg against them in October. Sunday he only — ONLY — had two turnovers, an interception that directly led to a Jacksonville score on the very next play and a fumble when he held the ball too long and the Jags scooped it for the score.

“I’ll take full blame for those points and that loss,” Roethlisberger said, “because you can’t put your defense in that situation.”

And just when you thought it was the offense’s fault the Steelers lost — worth noting Antonio Brown had 132 yards on seven catches including two scores on one good leg, by the way — you’re reminded that the defense gave up 378 yards to a Jaguars offense that had just 230 last week against the Bills. Blake Bortles had 87 yards passing last week and the Jaguars scored 10 points. At home.

This week, they dropped 45 on the Steelers, and Bortles had 214 yards passing, one touchdown pass and, most importantly, no turnovers. Leonard Fournette beat up the Steelers front seven to the tune of 109 yards and three touchdowns.

What else can you say? It was a failure in all facets of the game. The offense, but for a few huge plays, seemed overmatched much of the game. The defense never got the stop they needed and the special teams weren’t very special. The onside kick near the end of the game that could have given the Steelers a chance to tie with a touchdown went half the distance it needed to, giving the Jags a short field that enabled them to kick a field goal that turned out to be the eventual difference in the game.

The Steelers did have one more chance to kick off with a second to play after a cosmetic touchdown pass at the end of the game from Roethlisberger to Smith-Schuster. But had Tomlin — who bungled the clock management at the two-minute warning earlier — opted to kick a field goal with 25 seconds left on the clock, the Steelers would have had a more realistic chance to throw a Hail Mary for a chance to tie. Instead, the clock ran out on their hopes, the season, and perhaps this era.

“The urgency is always there when you feel like you’ve got a good team,” Roethlisberger said. “It stinks that you fall short.”

He was asked if he’ll be back next year, and said, “I definitely have a desire to play football. I love this game. I love these guys. It’s tough, it stings. I feel bad because I feel we let the fans down, my teammates down.”

Regarding the fans, Roethlisberger said, “I know a lot of them are disappointed like we are, it wasn’t enough. I feel bad for that. I feel like I let a lot of people down. I look forward to next year with those guys.”

So, for now, he’ll be back. But Le’Veon Bell has already said he might sit out or retire if the Steelers franchise him again, which they’ve reportedly said they plan to do. Haley won’t be back for sure after this mess and Tomlin, who is one of the best coaches in the game, will be under enormous scrutiny for how this game was managed. His job is safe, but the Steelers cannot have another season end like this.

Be careful what you wish for. That was the warning people gave the Steelers for wanting to face the Jaguars again. And they (read: we) were right.

What went wrong Sunday? Everything. The Steelers are done.