PITTSBURGH — It was the most ordinary of Sundays at Heinz Field. Yet it turned out to be among the wackiest, craziest, most unordinary of days in Pittsburgh Steelers history, and that’s saying something for an 80-year-old franchise.
The Steelers missed the playoffs by a couple feet, if that. They barely missed becoming just the second team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after an 0-4 start. They were the 10th and final AFC team eliminated from the playoff chase Sunday evening. Their season had a pulse until the final seconds of the late AFC game in San Diego.
The air finally went out of the Steelers’ wacky season when the Kansas City Chiefs lost to San Diego in overtime, which gave the Chargers the final playoff spot.
Now the most hated man in Pittsburgh — and likely forever linked to the likes of Sid Bream in Pittsburgh sports infamy — Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal by inches with less than 5 seconds to play in regulation, a kick that would have given the Chiefs’ junior varsity team a win and given the Steelers the final AFC playoff spot.
But it didn’t work out that way. The perfect ending didn’t write itself.
The truth of the matter is the hole the Steelers dug for themselves in September and October proved too deep to get out of. I think we all knew that, really. The Steelers players, too.
But it was fun and exciting nonetheless to ride the ups and downs of the most exciting final day of the regular season in a long while.
Here’s how it unfolded:
12:15 p.m. At Heinz Field, the Steelers take the field for the final warm-ups needing a win over the Browns and losses by the Chargers, Dolphins and Ravens to miraculously sneak into the postseason.
1:14 p.m. Jerricho Cotchery catches his career-high 10th touchdown, and the Steelers score on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. The game was over at this point, for all intents and purposes.
1:27 p.m. The Ravens take a 6-0 lead on Cincinnati after Bengals QB Andy Dalton throws two interceptions in the first half of the first quarter.
1:44 p.m. The Miami Dolphins take a 7-0 lead on the New York Jets (on a Mike Wallace touchdown catch, of course). This is when Steelers fans started worrying.
2 p.m. As usual, the Steelers are opening a up a can of you know what on the Browns, and have a 14-0 lead on Le’Veon Bell’s 5-yard touchdown run with 4:29 left in the second quarter.
2:18 p.m. It’s halftime in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are doing their part to get in the playoffs. They lead the Browns 14-0 at the break. Meanwhile, the Bengals and Dalton have weathered the early storm to take a 17-6 lead on Baltimore at halftime.
2:27 p.m. In Florida, the Jets score with 3 seconds in the first half to take a 14-7 lead into the half.
3:08 p.m. Ravens get the two-point conversion after a third-quarter touchdown to the Bengals at 17.
3:21 p.m. Jets kicker Nick Folk misses 35-yard field goal, keeping their lead at 14-7 early in the fourth quarter.
3:25 p.m. Shaun Suisham boots another field goal to give the Steelers a 20-0 lead with 8:26 to play. Simultaneously, the Bengals score to break a 17-17 tie and take a 24-17 lead.
3:39 p.m. Folk comes through this time for the Jets, nailing another 35-yard field goal attempt to push the Jets lead to 17-7 with about four minutes to play.
3:43 p.m. Ed Reed intercepts Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Folk boots another field goal five minutes later to stretch Jets lead to 20-7 with 2:59 to play. Heinz Field erupts in celebration when the highlight is shown.
3:55 p.m. As the final minute of regulation ticks off the clock in the Steelers’ 20-7 win over the Browns in Pittsburgh, Dre Kirkpatrick intercepts Joe Flacco and returns it for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 34-17 lead over the Ravens in the final minutes of their game. Heinz Field erupts again as the second piece of the four-piece puzzle the Steelers needed fell into place.
4:01 p.m. Jets win, 20-7.
4:26 p.m. The Chiefs and Chargers kick off with all of Steelers Nation tuning in. Less than five minutes later, the Chiefs take 7-0 lead.
5:42 p.m. After a back-and-forth first half, Chiefs take 21-14 lead into halftime.
6:13 p.m. Looking good for the Steelers. Chiefs pad their lead to 24-14 with a field goal.
6:42 p.m. Chargers score to get within 21-14.
6:56 p.m. Chargers tie it at 24.
7:12 p.m. Succop misses his now infamous 41-yarder, and game continues in overtime.
7:17 p.m. Chargers fake a punt from their own 28 and convert the fourth-and-2 on a questionable call that will be debated for a long time, especially among Steelers Nation.
7:30 p.m. Chargers take their first and only lead of the day, 27-24 in overtime on Nick Novak’s field goal.
7:40 p.m. Chase Daniel’s fourth-down pass harmlessly hits the turf as Chiefs fail to respond to the Chargers’ score and lose, 27-24. With that, Steelers are eliminated.
Since last week, everything had been going the Steelers’ way. They got all the help they needed last week and early Sunday. And then, a few inches ended up separating them from the playoffs in the waning hours of a year that just wasn’t the Steelers’ year.
Sunday will live on as an epic day in Steelers lore. But above all, it was a strange day.
Aside from the Steelers’ two first-half touchdowns, there was little buzz at Heinz Field for the play on the field. The loudest cheers were reserved for Bengals and Jets highlights.
The atmosphere was subdued. It was a boring game, and the fans sat through a rain-soaked afternoon. It was hard to tell the Steelers were in the midst of such a wacky day. Maybe all the fans who watched at home had the best experience. They could keep tabs on all the games that mattered to the Steelers’ hopes.
Those hopes were dashed by mere inches, and though it didn’t work out it made for a heck of a narrative.
Fans in Jacksonville, Houston, Buffalo and of course, Cleveland, would probably give up a lot to see that on the final day of the regular season.