FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – In the end, they couldn't get a little help from their friends - or their enemies, for that matter.
But their season ended a little over three hours later when the Baltimore Ravens defeated Oakland, 21-13, eliminating the Steelers from the playoff picture. Earlier in the day, Houston had rallied to defeat New England, putting the Steelers in a precarious position, while the New York Jets defeated Cincinnati Sunday night to claim the AFC's final playoff spot.
"We didn't do what we were supposed to do and take care of our business," Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "Therefore we have to suffer with what happens."
That would be becoming just the 13th defending Super Bowl champion to fail to qualify for the playoffs in the season following their championship. The Steelers in 2006 were also the last team to achieve that dubious distinction. Despite the win, their third in a row following a five-game losing streak, there was no satisfaction with finishing 9-7.
"We've got the same goal every year and that's to be world champs," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "I've been in this league nine years and I've been in this situation in seven of them. That's the reality of it."
Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes and the Steelers rushed for 202 yards, but it was too little, too late for a team that was 6-2 at midseason.
"I'd have never guessed we'd be in this situation," said wide receiver Hines Ward.
The Dolphins (7-9) nearly put an exclamation point on what was a frustrating season for the Steelers by being the sixth team to come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh.
After Miami trimmed Pittsburgh's lead to 27-24 on a 34-yard touchdown catch from third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen to Davon Bess – its second touchdown in two minutes – the Dolphins looked poised to take the lead when defensive back Nathan Jones sacked Roethlisberger, forcing a fumble that former Steelers' star Joey Porter recovered at the Pittsburgh 13.
But Clark jumped in front of a pass by Thigpen – who was playing after starter Chad Henne and backup Pat White were both knocked out of the game – at the Pittsburgh 2, giving the Steelers possession with six minutes remaining.
Parker, who has gone from a starter to seldom-used backup, entered the game after Rashard Mendenhall, who suffered an injury to his right thigh, was stuffed for no gain on first down.
Roethlisberger completed two short passes to Hines Ward to convert the first down and Parker took over the game from there, carrying the ball on eight of the Steelers next nine plays, picking up 82 yards.
"It felt good to get out there and just put the game away," said Parker.
Henne did not play in the second half after suffering an eye injury on a sack by LaMarr Woodley at the end of the first half. Woodley continued his dominating play, finishing with two sacks and three quarterback pressures.
White, a former West Virginia star, lasted just three series before suffering an apparent concussion on a hit from cornerback Ike Taylor following a scramble.
White was motionless on the field for several minutes before finally being carted off the field following an eight-minute delay.
"You never want to see a guy down like that. He kept repeating, 'Thanks,' and I just kept telling him to get better," said Taylor, who along with Deshea Townsend had an interception, the first by a Steelers cornerback this season.
The Steelers got better after their five-game losing streak, but it was too little, too late.
"There are a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 facing the circumstances this group was faced with," Tomlin said. "They knuckled down, they hung together. They did the best of their ability to fix it. We won the last three ball games and gave ourselves a chance."