PITTSBURGH – And so it ends, 2006, a year that will be recalled for being one that started with the Pittsburgh Steelers playing some of their most inspired football in decades, will also be remembered as one in which the team went out with a whimper.
In the weeks following the Steelers' 27-0 thrashing at Baltimore last month, all we heard was how embarrassed the team was in that game and how they would be looking for some payback.
If scoring one touchdown, as the Steelers did in their 31-7 loss to Baltimore Sunday, is payback, then the mission was accomplished.
On a day when everything fell into place for the Steelers, a day when every team they needed to lose to keep their playoff hopes alive lost, Pittsburgh forgot do the most important thing in the scenario – win.
And so ends their disappointing 2006 campaign.
"It's one of those things where we just dug too deep too early," said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel about the team's 2-6 start to this season. "We tried to shovel ourselves out, but we just couldn't get it done today. Baltimore's got a great team and you've got to give credit to them."
The difference between last year's Baltimore team that went 6-10 and this year's version that is now 12-3?
"Steve McNair," said Keisel. "He's a damn good quarterback. He showed that today."
There is no doubt that quarterback play dominates the NFL. And the Ravens are certainly proof of that.
Then again, so are the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger's roller-coaster season continued Sunday against the Ravens as he looked like a quarterback who had never played the game before. When his passes weren't batted down at the line of scrimmage, they were thrown wide, short or high of their intended targets.
This after coming off games where he looked like the Roethlisberger of old, managing the game, taking care of the football, making plays when he needed to.
Some of it can be traced back to his surgeries to start this season, first following a motorcycle crash in June and then an apendectomy in September. Add in a concussion that knocked him out of another game, and it's been a trying season for a quarterback who could do no wrong in his first two years in the league.
"I don't look back on anything and regret anything in my life," said Roethlisberger. "It is what it is and we live for the here and now."
The here and now isn't all that rosy either.
At 7-8, the Steelers will be forced to sit and watch as other teams compete for a championship.
But at least, after next week's game at Cincinnati and a possible head coaching search that will follow, the Steelers can begin putting this season of disappointments in their rearview mirror.
"It's been tough, it's been frustrating," said Roethlisberger. "I try to look at the positives. It would be hard for it to be any worse next year. We'll keep our fingers crossed."
© Roethlisberger looked like a quarterback who had spent an entire week watching film of himself getting hit in the first meeting between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
© McNair now owns a 13-4 record in his career against the Steelers.
Maybe that will help determine in head coach Bill Cowher walks away at the end of this season. Knowing that the Ravens still have that guy you can't beat could be a motivating factor.
© Ike Taylor is playing with absolutely no confidence. On one play in the third quarter, McNair threw a pass to Demetrius Williams that Taylor should have easily – at the very least – batted down.
Instead, Taylor seemed to wait for Williams to catch the ball so that he could tackle him.
Why not go for the ball on that play? The worst thing that can happen is that you get a pass interference and they put the ball at the same spot anyway.
© Roethlisberger said after the game that he felt he and the receivers weren't on the same page in this game.
Forget the page. At times, it didn't look like they were even reading out of the same playbook.
© And with the 14th pick in the NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select … somebody who can help them beat the Ravens.
That could be an offensive lineman. It could be a cornerback. Heck, the way the Steelers were dominated by Baltimore this season, they'd better spend the entire draft on players capable of helping them beat this team.
© Merry Christmas.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter