The bad snap by veteran center Maurkice Pouncey, which led the Cleveland Browns first touchdown of the game, was in many ways, a microcosm of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 season.
Players such as Pouncey, have seen their better day pass them by and yet generally we would expect them to come back next season. This game, however felt very different, it almost felt as if we were seeing the end of an era, the passing of the torch so to speak. The Browns are a young, upstart team who is just realizing their potential; the Steelers on the other hand, looked like a team is in desperate need of serious changes.
For me, I knew it was over when Ben Roethlisberger threw his third interception. Interesting enough, he noted earlier during the week, his desire to play this game as if it were his last. In review of his performance, he was true to form; this playoff loss may have been his last game in a Steelers uniform. In addition to Roethlisberger, the offensive line was thoroughly beaten in the trenches. The defensive on the other side gave up big runs, as they were beaten up front and in the secondary. In essence, nothing went the Steelers way from the opening snap.
Perhaps the biggest question involves head coach Mike Tomlin. For a man that has been lauded by many as a leader among men, why was his team so unprepared? It would be one thing if they battled and lost, but his team looked lethargic and uninspired, why? Even when the team seemed to build momentum after cutting the lead to 12, his decision to punt on 4th-and-one in the fourth quarter, proved to be costly, as the Browns scored on the next possession. One can only speculate Tomlin's future after this failure, but his future as the Steelers head coach should be doubtful at this point.
In retrospect, the 2020 Steelers were a team as forgettable as the one from 2011, who lost to Tim Tebow in the Wild Card round that year. Both teams ended the season with the same 12-4 record, and both disappointed in the playoffs.
The question Steelers fans should be asking is what happens now? One thing I have learned, there is a fundamental difference between what we believe should happen, and what is actually going to happen. Ideally, this game should mark the end of veteran players such as Roethlisberger and Pouncey. What may hold this idea back, is this organization's strong culture of loyalty towards their long-tenured players.
As for the rest of us, we have the offseason to wonder if that 11-0 start was a mirage all along. We will likely never know and perhaps it is better that way.