As the dust settles on the Steelers season, the players will have no one to blame but themselves. There were plenty of mistakes and missed opportunities in the 34-31 loss to the Titans. Ultimately, in this era of league parity, the Steelers came up one Foote short.

Perhaps DeWayne Washington is your goat. He missed a tackle that set up the winning field goal, which was also partly thanks to a running into the kicker penalty charged to… Washington.

How about Tommy Maddox? He had the ball in his hands at the end of the game, around 2 minutes left. He couldn't complete a pass to give Jeff Reed, instead of Joe Nedney, a chance to be the hero.

Speaking of Jeff Reed, didn't he miss a field goal? Didn't Tom Rouen make you miss Josh Miller? Was anyone covering Frank Wycheck? Where was Joey Porter the entire game?

Where was Joey Porter, indeed. The Tennessee Titans double-teamed him most of the game. They could get away with this because Kendrell Bell was unable to play. In his stead was Larry Foote. Foote didn't have that bad of a game, finishing with 11 tackles, but he's no Bell. Foote was unable to bring Steve McNair down on a number of occasions.

Sure, Tennessee converted 12 of 18 third downs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they also turned the ball over four times. The Steelers broke with season-long tradition and threw only one interception. For every advantage the Titans could claim, the Steelers could counter with something in their favor. This game did not go to overtime because Pittsburgh was overmatched.

Bill Cowher and his players chose to blame, at least initially, the officials. Certainly, the zebras had more to say about the outcome of this game than anyone would have preferred, particularly the NFL. The NFL was not ready for all these close games, as the end of the Giants-49ers game so painfully demonstrated. The NFL is not ready for parity.

While the conduct of the officiating crews is an embarrassment to the game, we fans have to expect many more games such as this one. You walk away feeling that the team that won wasn't any better than your team. Ask any Cleveland Browns fan about going 0-3 against the Steelers this season. Will the Super Bowl champs be any better than a coin flip before an overtime quarter?

Too often, games are coming down to one kick, one tackle, one call, and one player. As great as Casey Hampton played Saturday, the Steelers defense is just not very formidable without a healthy Kendrell Bell playing. A healthy Bell is all that stood between the Rooneys and a fifth trophy. A healthy Bell was the difference between standing apart from the group and being mired in parity.

Without Bell on the field, the Steelers are forced to complain about the officiating. The NFL is not prepared to handle the results of its own design and Steeler fans are left to wonder what might have been. Despite all the extensions and signings in the off-season, Pittsburgh could not manage to distinguish itself from the pack. There was a great receiving corps headed up by the gutsy Hines Ward, but there was also a beleaguered secondary that couldn't get the defense off of the field.

Bill Cowher may have sprinted into the locker room to complain, but the Steelers season limped off the field. Pittsburgh was forced to put its fate in the hands of the NFL and the league was not ready to shoulder the burden.

Best of luck to the Titans and their fans. You'll need it.

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