Saturday's Loss

<b>NASHVILLE, Tenn. -</B> Had the Steelers made a couple of more plays, it would be them, not the Tennessee Titans, moving on to play in the AFC Championship game.<br><br> But when people talk about Saturday's 34-31 overtime loss by the Steelers to the Titans in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, all they will talk about is the call.

We've all heard the adage, let the players decide the game.

But you will hear many people say that didn't happen Saturday.  They will tell you that a penalty on Dewayne Washington for running into kicker Joe Nedney on a missed field goal attempt cost the Steelers an opportunity to advance in the playoffs.

Even the Steelers were beating that drum.  "I saw a kicker that had kicked the ball, had taken a couple of steps, and I saw Dewayne sliding on the ground," said Steelers' head coach Bill Cowher. "For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous. ... Fine me if you want, but that's the truth.

And to a certain degree, Cowher has a point.  Had that call not been made, Nedney's missed field goal attempt would have stood and the Steelers and Titans might still be playing football at this moment at The Coliseum.  But that penalty did not cost the Steelers a victory. It was only the final play in their loss.

The Steelers and Titans played a tremendous game Saturday. If you didn't enjoy watching this game, you don't enjoy football.  But in a game in which the Steelers ran 63 total plays and the Titans ran 82, one play was not the difference between the two teams.

Certainly the running into the kicker penalty on Washington was questionable, but it was one of several questionable calls in the game. Had the Titans come out on the losing side of this game, they would have had several legitimate gripes about the officiating.

The officiating crew, headed by referee Ron Blum, seemed lost all day long, missing a play here, picking up a flag there. And their near-refusal to allow Cowher to challenge whether or not punt returner Derrick Mason was down in the third quarter was the height of ineptness (If you can't challenge whether or not a player's knee is down, exactly what can you challenge?).  But Ron Blum and company didn't lose Saturday. The Steelers did.

Had the Steelers played better defense instead of giving up 430 total yards and 34 points, they would have won.  Had the offense capitalized on several opportunities to put the game away in the fourth quarter, the Steelers would have won.

They did neither.

"We had an opportunity to win this game and we didn't do it," said Cowher. "But we had something taken away from us, too."

It's understandable that things kept on coming back to that for the Steelers.

Steelers players, coaches, and fans will remember what occurred here for years to come, just as they will remember last weekend's comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns.  Saturday's loss is the icing on the cake for what has been a disappointing season for the Steelers.

They were expected to breeze to the Super Bowl, but they stumbled and struggled throughout the season, doing everything the hard way.

Nothing came easy for this team. It played on the edge all season long, just waiting to be pushed off.  Maybe the Tennessee Titans were the ones who gave the Steelers the final push. Or maybe it was Ron Blum's officiating crew.

But had the Steelers not spent all that time living on the edge, it would not have happened.

--Dale Lolley

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