The scoreboard facing them highlights the unimaginable: Their season is over — and their career may be over too.
Trailing by four points in the first half, the Pittsburgh Steelers were unable to complete a comeback Sunday night, falling to the Cleveland Browns in the wild round of the 48-37 playoffs. A promising season was trimmed 11-0 to a 1-5 finish with a first-round knockout at home — with a final result that seemed closer than it had ever felt before.
«We haven’t done enough,» Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the meltdown late in the season. «We didn’t put them in good enough conditions. We didn’t play enough plays, especially at critical moments. We were a group who died in Karma.»
Bouncey, the 10-year-old veteran warrior, and Ruthlesburger years ago, pledged to play as long as the other did, and with Sunday night losing and one year left on their contracts, that day is much closer than ever. They sat on the bench long after their teammates left the field, chatted and absorbed in it all.
«I love that guy,» Rothlisberger said of Bouncy. «He is one of the best competitors and my team-mates ever. It was so fun to share the soccer field with him. I hate it ended the way it ended. I just wanted to apologize to him because I wanted to win it for him.»
While Roethlisberger and Pouncey sat on the bench, a few Steelers approached the pair and shared a few moments with them. A broad future Jojo Smith Shuster, Who has now entered a free agency for the first time in his career, hugged his midfielder in tears.
«I’m very grateful to be the midfielder, and I’m not going to change him,» said Smith Schuster, sharing what he told Rothlesberger. «I told him, I don’t know what your plans are or what you have planned for you guys, but I’m really grateful, from the time I got in, the first day, to the time Ben took me under his wing. Ben told me this, ‘You fought hard, you are a warrior. And thank you. It was just love.
Rothlisberger, 38, threw 501 yards in 68 pass attempts with four touchdowns on Sunday. But his four interceptions eliminated the Steelers, who were trailing 28-0 in the first quarter.
Right from the start, the first moments of what the couple’s final match at Heinz Field would not have gone the way they expected. A high shot of Pouncey sailed over Roethlisberger’s head for the initial play. Roethlisberger and James Conner They scrambled to encircle the loose ball, but neither made an effective move to secure it. Instead, Brown pounced on him and led 7-0, just 14 seconds off the clock.
It only got worse from there. Brown turned Rothlisberger’s three interceptions in the first half into 21 points for an unbeatable lead in the end, as the Pittsburgh defense was unable to slow down Nick Chubb And Brown’s crime. The Steelers didn’t score a single bag or force a spin; They are 1-4 this season when they didn’t have a turnover.
“We blew it up,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Hayward He said. You look at the result. As a defense, we lost a lot of points. As a captain, as a captain of defense, I failed miserably; and you know, it’s hard to lose. It’s hard to lose guys in our locker room who did great things on and off the field. You know, this unknown just kills me. To squander an opportunity like this and know that we did not play football with our brand, which is bad. «
Ruthlesberger’s grim first half — a 20-on-30 pass at 177 yards and three interceptions — was an ugly echo of the regular season’s first halves against the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts, when the Hall of Fame seemed to lose its touch. Against the Colts, he found his groove to a win in the second half. Brown, it was too late.
«It wasn’t good enough,» Roethlisberger said of his performance. “When you lose a match like this, you can look back and evaluate everything you want in the season, how you did during this game, that game, the runs, the extensions. I mean, at some point, we’ll look back the whole thing.
«But when you don’t end the way you want it to, you’ll always feel kind of way, as if you were short or your fault.»
The Steelers started on the rush after the break of the first half on Sunday, beating Brown 13-0. But Tomlin chose to play for field position and gamble in fourth and 1 of 46 for the fourth quarter opener, effectively stopping his team’s momentum. Brown scored in the next half to lead 42-23.
«We stopped each other,» said Tomlin, «and wanted to corner them, and maybe provide a short field of attack.» «We might have had two or three stops in a row. I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of field positioning. But we weren’t good enough at doing that.»
With the loss, the Steelers lost three consecutive play-offs, including the 2017 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, when Pittsburgh lost 45 visitors’ points.
«That’s what it is,» said Tomlin, when asked about personal accountability for post-season failures. «Our record is our record. Our performance is our performance. Don’t run away from that.»
Tomlin, who has never lost a regular season as Steller’s head coach, only has 0.500 marks in post-season.
«We didn’t do well enough tonight,» he said. «Not the training, not the play. You can go back to the staff turnover game. But we weren’t good enough in a lot of other areas, communication, in terms of details. Just not a good night for us. In — knockout tournaments, when you don’t have it.» Good night, you go home. «
With the season over, Roethlisberger has an important decision on the horizon. He has one year left on his $ 41.2 million contract, and he has said before that if he doesn’t play in a way that helps his team, he will «hang in».
After Sunday’s competition, Rothlisberger said he hasn’t made a decision about his future yet.
«It will start between me and God, a lot of supplication. Lots of talk with my family, discussions, decisions. I still have a year ahead of me in my contract,» he said. «I hope the Steelers want me back, if that’s the way we are. There will be a lot of discussions. But now is not the time for that.»
«This loss is new. It just sits on our hearts and minds for now. It will continue for a while.»