Steelers were not able to come through in the clutch

To go from being 7-2-1 and believing that their beloved Pittsburgh Steelers were a legitimate Super Bowl contender to standing in Heinz Field cheering for the Cleveland Browns to rally and defeat the Baltimore Ravens was a definite drop in aspirations for Steelers fans.

That’s the way the Steelers’ 2018 season ended.

Teams only have so many opportunities to have the necessary talent in place to make a serious run for the Super Bowl. The 1976 Steelers had the talent, but were felled by injuries during the playoffs, resulting in a hurtful loss to the Oakland Raiders. This year’s Steelers team seemingly had the talent, but just didn’t close out games.

FUMBLED AWAY

Looking back, there are three plays from the 2018 season that quickly jump out.

James Conner’s fumble in the opener in Cleveland when the Steelers were trying to run out the clock. That fumble was one of the Steelers many miscues that enabled the Browns to rally and tie the Steelers.

Backup tight end Xavier Grimble’s fumble in Denver when he was stretching to reach the pylon. The loose ball rolled through the end zone. Instead of it being a Pittsburgh touchdown, the Broncos had a touchback.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble late in the game at New Orleans stifled a late-game drive.

There were many other plays, some obvious, and some not so obvious which resulted in the Steelers being on the outside looking in.

In 2017 the Steelers won a number of games in the last few seconds. This year, they lost four out of five games late in the season. They had a second-half lead in all of them.

“It’s just a couple of plays here and there in games. That’s football. That’s the NFL,” said offensive guard David DeCastro Sunday after Pittsburgh’s 16-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “That is what people want, close games. We didn’t find a way to separate games by more points to overcome those errors. Those errors cost us. We didn’t have those errors last year.”

EXIT INTERVIEWS

The Steelers will be holding end of the season interview sessions with players and coaches this week. Some of these will undoubtedly end up being exit interviews as some players and, most likely, some assistant coaches will be informed that they will not be with the organization in 2019.

For those who are wanting Tomlin’s session with Art Rooney II to be an exit interview, forget that idea. The Steelers will not relieve Tomlin of his duties, but Rooney might insist on certain assistants being terminated. Over the course of the past two seasons, there have been a number of assistant coach changes.

Look for offensive line coach Mike Munchak not to return. Not because the Steelers don’t want him, but because he may be offered a head coaching job with another franchise. The Steelers need to do whatever they can to keep Munchak.

WATCHED

Newly-signed kicker Matt McCrane was being watched like a hawk during pregame by fans, media and coaches. The Steeler coaches were trying to get a read on McCrane to determine what he might be able to do in a late-game situation.

McCrane, who was cut by two other teams this season, did just fine, nailing field goal tries of 39, 47 and 35 yards. Thursday afternoon, McCrane was playing golf in Texas. Sunday night, he was kicking a game-winning field goal in Pittsburgh. Such is the life of a kicker in the NFL.

BATTERED BENGALS

The Bengals have more than 20 players on Injured Reserve, including their top three tight ends and their starting quarterback, Andy Dalton.

Cincinnati linebacker Hardy Nickerson is the son of former Steelers linebacker Hardy Nickerson. The elder Nickerson played for the Steelers from 1987-92.

DRAFT DAYS

In case you’re wondering, the NFL draft will be April 25-27 in Nashville. Barring possible trades, the Bengals will pick 11th, the Browns 17 and the Steelers 20th in the first round.

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