Steelers defeat Bengals, but miss playoffs
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 late Sunday afternoon and then watched their season come to an end some 250 miles away in Baltimore when the Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns.
Had the Browns rallied to win, it would be Pittsburgh in the playoffs and not the Ravens. Well, there's little joy in Pittsburgh Sunday night, especially after Indianapolis routed Tennessee 33-17. If the Titans and Colts had played to a tie, then the Steelers would sneak in.
"I appreciate the effort," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We controlled the things that were in our control today. I can't say enough about the efforts of the guys, particularly guys like Matt (McCrane) coming in on a moving train and kicking the way he did today. We accept the outcome. We had 17 weeks to state a case for ourselves, we stand by our work."
McCrane, who was signed Friday after Chris Boswell was placed on injured reserve, hit three field goals, including the game-winner from 35 yards out.
"A couple days ago I was at home playing golf and preparing to get a call," McCrane said. "It's been a month since I kicked in an NFL game. To get out and make the first field goal was big. And to go 3-for-3 as well."
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood by his teammates as well. Roethlisbeger went 31 of 45 for a 287 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He did not have his favorite target -- Antonio Brown, who missed the game with a knee injury.
For the season, he finished with 5,129 passing yards, becoming the seventh quarterback to surpass the 5,000 mark.
"I am trying not to reflect right now, but it's hard not to," he said. "I just got done seeing my linemen and so I think pride in my guys, pride in guys that stepped up today that had to move around to different positions."
While the Steelers' offense had trouble getting untracked, Pittsburgh's defense was stellar, holding the Bengals to 95 passing yards and harassing Jeff Driskel all day. Cincinnati's quarterback was sacked four times.
The Bengals running attack was grounded able to gain only 125 yards, with 51 coming on one Joe Mixon run.
"It's hard to loosen things up if we don't complete some balls down the field," Mixon lamented. "No question about it. ... We just were unable to loosen things up with Jeff Driskel down the field and get the ball down the field enough."
The Bengals were playing with the weight of coach Marvin Lewis' future hanging over the team. For weeks, rumors have swirled Lewis would be fired at season's end, his 16th at the helm in Cincinnati.
"This isn't about me; this is about this football team and what they do," Lewis said. "To make this about one person, it's not about one person. This is my job. That's it."
Come Monday, Lewis certainly will find out his fate.
Whoever the coach is, Mixon said the Bengals will be in the playoffs next season.
"Next year we're not going to fall short, that's for sure," said Mixon after his 105 yards on 13 carries gave him 1,168 yards -- the most for the team since Cedric Benson in 2009. "If we don't have injuries, it's a different story. You can't use it as an excuse. But I stand by it and I'll keep standing by it.
"We'll go whoever the coach is," Mixon said. "Whoever it is. Whether it's Marvin or we get somebody new. I know the people we have. The people we've got."
The Bengals touchdown came when safety Shawn Williams intercepted Roethlisberger and took it to the house from 58 yards out.
But it was the Steelers who wore down the injury-riddle Bengals on Sunday. Cincinnati kept Roethlisberger out of the end zone until he hooked up with JuJu Smith-Schuster on an 11-yard screen pass late in the third quarter to tie game at 10-all.
McCrane gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter as Roethlisberger and the offense held the ball for 13 plays and more than seven minutes.
Randy Bullock connected from 32 yards to make it 16-16 with 6:17 remaining.
That gave Roethlisberger plenty of time to engineer a game-winning drive and made a hero out of McCrane.
"It was an unreal feeling," McCrane said. "Pittsburgh would be an outstanding place to stay. I am not really sure what is going to happen."