After a two year hiatus, I’m back for one more post-game article, maybe my last ever. The entire reason for the return was some good playoff mojo. Getting this site’s old gang back together for one final playoff run of the Roethlisberger era. FC with the excellent “Gospel” pregame article and yours truly with the Fifth Quarter post-gamer. There is some symmetry between this site and our beloved football team.

I had planned on writing about the “Turnpike Trifecta” where the Steelers knocked the Browns out of the playoff in three consecutive appearances over a span of 25 years. How awesome was that going to be? Instead, I’m writing about a different trifecta. The Terrible Trifecta. Terrible decision making, Terrible game planning, and terrible playmaking. This led to the worst loss in franchise history. More on that later.

These things are not recommended.

The Top 10 F-You List
1. Lashawn Pouncey – His snaps have been shit for two years. This is the primary job as a center, especially on a team that plays out of the shotgun 90% of the time! And F-U to the O-line coach for not correcting, coaching up, or fixing his form (or whatever the problem is) on the snaps. That first play set the tone for the first quarter and killed the playoff run. How different is this game if instead of giving up a free TD, the offense drives down and scores points putting the inexperienced Browns in an early hole on the road? Additionally, Pouncey has been routinely bullied into the backfield over the past two years. He’s a major problem with the run game. The guy looks like he walks around at 275 pounds in a league of 300-pound linemen. It’s time to retire. You’ll never win a Super Bowl and that’s your fault. #FreeHernandez

2. John Smith – People downplay bulletin board material and extra motivation, but it sure as hell seems that shit always comes back to haunt teams. Dancing on logos, trash-talking opponents, and going from a fun-loving kid with no driver’s license to a self-important E-sports and TikTok star isn’t a good look. From being universally loved to hated across the league is tough to do. A slow possession slot receiver with personality issues isn’t very valuable in this league. As the veteran presence in the WR room, he lead the group into the ground and possibly spawned rookie Chase Claypool into the next “JuJu”. Good luck getting paid in Free Agency. The lowly Cleveland Browns ran off the field taunting his “Browns is the Browns” remarks just weeks after the Bills and Bengals went at him for dancing on their logos. This fruitcake also wore a purse around his neck to the post-game presser. Litty!

3. Dionte Johnson – He’s a very talented guy in a sense of having quick feet, good route-running ability, and shiftiness. The problem here is that he is softer than baby shit and built like a Jr High point guard in a league of muscled up men. He’s thin to the point of being frail and his biggest issue is the utter lack of an ability to catch a pass above his shoulder pads. How many balls do we need to see bounce off his hands right to defenders? The team was very fortunate of these plays for 11 weeks. Those things catch up with you after a while. The 2nd pick of the game was actually a good pass. Ben put it high enough to get over the linemen’s hands but low enough to be caught. Dionte dropped the ball as he did more than any player in the NFL this year. He has not fixed the issue and has a long way to go to be a reliable starter. When he isn’t dropping balls he’s slipping and falling on his routes. Very frustrating talent is how I’d describe him.

4. Eric Ebron – He lived up to his career reputation this year in Pittsburgh. He does drop way too many balls, but he also can’t block to save his life. This guy is anti-clutch and killed many drives this year. He and Dionte Johnson were absolute killers for this offense in the biggest of moments. If you are playing small ball, you can’t drop passes, let alone lead the league in drops. When you struggle to run the ball in general, a weak TE on the field isn’t helpful. Ebron is not a Steelers type TE and the team would’ve been better if he never signed here.McDonald did a better job last year.

5. Randy Fichtner – This asshole absolutely neutered our gunslinger QB. The short passing game took away our physicality in the run game. It took away our best weapon which is Ben being Ben and extending plays for big shots downfield. In this particular game on the first interception, he called a 1 man route. Ben got pressured and had nowhere to go but a dump off to RB who was assigned to block. Pressure forced a bad throw and a pick. The first pick came with JuJu in-line blocking as a TE. Putting a WR on a DE in a blocking situation is a fireable offense. Horrible play calling killed the end of the career of a HOF QB.

Minkah wishing Tomlin good luck at his next coaching job.
6. Michael Pettaway Tomlin – Talk about an absolutely ideal situation. Rest your guys in the final game. Play vanilla and see how the opponent wants to attack you. Come out the next week and beat up on that exact same inferior opponent who is missing both starting corners, their best lineman, a starting DE, 4 coaches, and only practiced once all week. What happened is Cleveland is the team that had the better adjustments. A Special Teams Coach promoted to Head Coach midweek cleaned his clock. The most egregious error was being down 12 points with a quarter to play and punting on 4th and 1. The number of points put up by the Jags and Browns in the last two playoff games are inexcusable for a defensive coach, especially with the talent he’s had to work with.7. Keith Butler – See Mike Tomlin. He couldn’t muster a stop when it mattered despite Cleveland being down to street free agents on the O-line.

8. Terrell Edmunds – To be fair, his play has improved this season. In this game his tackling was horrendous. Too many key first-half plays involved somebody running right around him while he flopped and flailed.

9. NBC Sports – Maybe they knew something, maybe the fix was in. Every commercial leading up to this game, every ad, every storyline was about the Browns. How about a team starting 11-0 with a HOF QB at the end of his career possibly going on a deep playoff run? Wouldn’t that be a storyline? The slant towards the Browns by the broadcast was unpalatable.

A lamb in Wolf’s clothing.

10. Tom Wolf – Would fans in the stands have made a difference? Probably not, but maybe. Covid rules have generally been ridiculous and inconsistent, but some teams having fans in the stands and others is not parity for the playoffs.

Outstanding in his field.

The Roethlisberger Situation
How eerie was the visual of Ben sitting alone at the end of the bench at the end of the game? He looked up at the stadium with tears in his eyes almost knowing his storied career was wrapping up. He’s already stated his desire to play out the last year of his contract, but with the team in cap hell, he’ll be returning without a lot of familiar faces. I can’t see a competitor like him retiring after a game like that and in a stadium without fans. He deserves a hero’s sendoff, even if that means coming back for a mediocre final season. Ben deserves to leave the field after his final home game to a standing ovation. Many of us waited two and a half decades for a franchise QB after Bradshaw, and Ben was it. And by was his career absolutely something! He’s easily one of the two most significant players in franchise history alongside Joe Greene. His game wasn’t great. His turnovers were a big reason for the loss. Big picture, the guy is a gamer, a warrior, and one of the most significant athletes our city will see in a lifetime. Maybe this loss spurs a fire in his belly to come back strong to retire the right way. One thing is for sure, $41 million dollars says he’s definitely coming back. Ashley needs a she-shed.

So where does all of this leave us? Major changes must happen this offseason. The team is way over the cap, with the starting LT, LG, RB, WR, OLB, CB, NT all being free agents. The franchise QB has a $40 million cap hit. You also have an aging Center and CB with huge cap hits as well. The offensive coordinator and OL coach need to be replaced. Finding a new run game coordinator is a must. It is entirely possible we have already seen Ben Roethlisberger’s last playoff win, but there is still a chance they can put a strong enough team around him to compete again next year. He’ll certainly be allowed to play out his contract after a restructuring, but that may mean just one more year for Ben, possibly two. It’s been a great ride and I’m appreciative of that. You should be too. In all likelihood, the Super Bowl window has closed. What’s next and how long the rebuild takes after Ben is a concern in the back of all of our minds.

Around the League
Defense Still Dominates: The Bears hold the Saints to 7 points deep into the 3rd quarter. The Rams shut down and dominate NFL week 4 MVP Russell Wilson, the Ravens box up Derrick Henry and hold the high scoring Titans to 13. The Super Bowl winner will play good defense. That gives you some hope with the Steelers getting Devin Bush back that maybe, just maybe they can compete next year. After watching tonight and each of the previous playoff failures, I’m not sure a Mike Tomlin coached team can play elite-level defense in the playoffs. Teams with a good defense can advance, we know this. Can the Steelers defense be good when it matters?

Stats That Stick:
0 – Sacks by the Steelers defense. Stefanski and Van Pelt completely outclassed Tomlin and Butler in the game-planning. Blame the offensive turnovers all you want but the defense was horrendous.

1 – Number of yards away the Steelers were from getting a first down near midfield being down by 12 with a full quarter to play. Instead, they punted the ball.

2 – Ben Roethlisberger now has 2 of the 4 most prolific playoff passing games ever. His 501 yards ranks second ever. His 469-yard game ranks 4th.

4 – Career number of 500-yard games by Ben Roethlisberger, extending his own NFL record.

5 – Turnovers by two Hall of Fame-caliber players in Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey.

47 – Most passes ever completed in a game, new recond by Ben Roethlisberger. A 38-year-old QB throwing 68 passes is less than ideal.

1463 – Days since the Steelers’ last playoff win. Ouch. This number could grow quite a bit if Ben doesn’t find a way to win one next year.