PITTSBURGH -- This one had the feel of true loss.
Mike Tomlin croaked his way through a two-minute press conference afterward.
Cries of anguish emanated from the shower.
Players whispered in a rookie's ear after his mistake led to the stunning loss.
It was the fourth consecutive loss for the 4-5 Steelers, who moments earlier felt they had defeated the now 8-1 Cowboys on a fake spike/touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown with 42 seconds left.
But they gave up the lead.
"That's getting your heart ripped out right there," Mitchell said.
The lead changed hands five times in the final 16:35, but when Roethlisberger faked the spike and threw 15 yards to Brown, it set off a wild celebration not only among the largest crowd ever to see a Steelers game in Pittsburgh (67,737), but on the field as the offense mobbed Roethlisberger.
The Steelers led 30-29 and the Cowboys took over at their 25 with three timeouts and 42 seconds left.
A pass to Jason Witten for 13 yards caused a second timeout. It was followed by a 5-yard pass to Witten as cornerback Ross Cockrell held Witten while the clock ticked down below 20 seconds.
But rookie safety Sean Davis rushed toward the two and grabbed Witten by the facemask.
Instead of the Cowboys being forced to use their final timeout with 15 seconds left at the Pittsburgh 47, they had a first down at the Pittsburgh 32 with one of the best kickers in the league waiting on the sideline.
However, the Cowboys didn't need to kick a field goal. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott burst through the left side of the Cowboys line for a 32-yard touchdown run to win the game.
It was Elliott's second touchdown run in the final two minutes -- the other for 14 yards -- as he finished with 114 yards on 21 carries.
"Giving up runs for the last two scores, when we're in a good defensive call, it's just unacceptable," said Cameron Heyward.
The worse play, though, was the facemask.
Davis, who otherwise had played a strong game while rotating series at strong safety with Robert Golden, took advice from veterans before facing the media to explain the penalty.
"I was just trying to get him down, poke the ball, grab something," said the rookie. "He just ducked, man. Once I felt my fingers in his facemask I let go. I was coming in so fast."
Davis was asked if he blamed himself for the loss.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm a competitor, man. I always want to win. I weigh my mistakes very heavily. I don't know really how to answer that. I just want to come back tomorrow, look at the tape and get better. We're trying to get a W. I'm trying to do all that I can do."
"He's a young guy and it's football and that was a football penalty," said Mitchell. "It wasn't a pre-snap or a post-snap penalty. It was one that happens during a play. It's a tough play."
The Steelers opened strong. They took a 6-0 lead thanks to a strip-sack by Anthony Chickillo that was recovered by Ryan Shazier. On a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Roethlisberger threw to Le'Veon Bell for the touchdown. The 2-point conversion pass to Ladarius Green -- making his first appearance of the season -- was dropped, the first of four failed 2-point conversion attempts by the Steelers.
The Steelers jumped up by 12-3 on a 3-yard pass to Eli Rogers, who reached back for a short throw from Roethlisberger while on his rear end in the end zone.
Elliott followed with the first of his three touchdowns, an 83-yard screen pass. It was followed by a 53-yard field goal by Bailey early in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 13-12 lead.
The Steelers regained the lead with a 39-yard Chris Boswell field goal, and Boswell kicked a 25-yard field goal early in the second half to push the lead to 18-13.
A Dan Bailey field goal and a 50-yard Dak Prescott bomb to Dez Bryant, over Artie Burns, put the Cowboys ahead 23-18, and then the lead changed hands four more times in a wild finish that will be long remembered by the Steelers and the record crowd.
"Before that last series," said Mitchell, "I said 'We don't need heroes. We just need execution,' and we got a little out of whack, came up a gap short. Can't do that at the end of the game. You've just got to execute. Sometimes you get in nut-cutting crunch time and you think you've got to do something extra, when in all reality you've just got to trust your coaches and trust your brothers around you that if I do my job we'll be more than fine. I think if we had the right attitude, we can use this as a learning experience.
"Obviously it's a devastating loss. It's a huge setback for us. But 4-5, the door's not all the way closed. I'm still trying to find a way to see light, besides the light that's in my eyes right now."null