PITTSBURGH - Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a long time to emerge from the trainer's area of the Steelers locker room on Sunday afternoon.
When he finally hobbled his way to his locker and spoke to the media, he was unusually short with his answers.
"Disappointment, pain, letting a lot of people down,'' Roethlisberger said of how he felt while leaving the field, "and it doesn't feel good.''
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger walks off the field, followed by an NFL Films camera man, after the Steelers lost to the Bengals Sunday afternoon.
Roethlisberger hasn't had to deal with many playoff-less seasons in his NFL career, but Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals not only clinched a non-winning season for the Steelers but also eliminated them from the playoff hunt with one game remaining.
Roethlisberger didn't want to point a finger at anyone but himself. His interception with 24 seconds remaining in the game helped set up the Bengals' winning field goal.
"We should be [in the playoffs] if it wasn't for me,'' he said. "We have a lot of talent, and it shows. We have some good guys.''
The Steelers fell to 7-8 and will finish the regular season at 1 p.m. next Sunday at home in a meaningless game against the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals improved to 9-6 and clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season.
Since Roethlisberger joined the Steelers in 2004, they had made the playoffs in six of his eight seasons. The eight losses this year will be a new low for coach Mike Tomlin in his six years as coach.
"We have a quality team here,'' Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "But at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are. You can say, 'shoulda, coulda,' but our record told us who we are.''
Foote and the Steelers defense did their best to keep the roller-coaster season alive. The defense didn't allow any Bengals touchdowns and gave up two field goals, which were set up by a short punt and Roethlisberger's late interception.
The Bengals gained a 7-0 advantage late in the first quarter when Roethlisberger tried to throw a short pass to tight end Heath Miller in his own end of the field, and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall intercepted the ball and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers immediately marched down the field but came away with no points when a bad snap on a field-goal try contributed to Shaun Suisham missing from 24 yards.
Later in the second quarter, Pittsburgh rookie Drew Butler managed just 37 yards on a punt from his own 5-yard line to set the Bengals up with a short field. Bengals kicker Josh Brown booted a 41-yard field goal to extend Cincinnati's lead to 10-0.
"We have to do better,'' Roethlisberger said. "We have to start moving the ball, and stop getting behind the chains and making it hard on ourselves. I have to play better.''
Roethlisberger gave the Steelers hope with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown before halftime and later led the Steelers on a 10-play, 45-yard drive in the third quarter to tie the game at 10-10 on a Suisham 40-yard field goal.
But Pittsburgh wasted several second-half opportunities. They didn't come up with any points following two Cortez Allen interceptions and a forced fumble. And they also failed to capitalize when Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis had Josh Brown attempt a 56-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the game and was well short.
The Steelers also gave the Bengals good field position when Suisham was short on a 53-yard field-goal try with 1:51 left in the game.
"We did things to give us a chance to win the game,'' said Roethlisberger, who finished 14-of-28 for 220 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times. "But I blew it.''
With the score still tied, 10-10, the Steelers took possession of the ball at their own 11-yard line with 44 seconds remaining. After reaching the 29 and with 24 seconds left, Roethlisberger overshot Mike Wallace near midfield, and Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson intercepted the ball and returned it to the Pittsburgh 46.
"It just came off my hand high,'' Roethlisberger said. "And as soon as it left my hand, I knew it.''
With 14 seconds left, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green for 21 yards, and Green, who finished the game with 10 receptions for 116 yards against a banged-up Steelers secondary, got out of bounds with eight seconds remaining.
Josh Brown then silenced the Steelers crowd by drilling the game-winning 43-yard field goal into the closed end of Heinz Field.
"We just didn't make the plays late in games this year,'' Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "When we were 12-4 and winning Super Bowls, we weren't blowing teams out. It's these types of game where we would make plays in the fourth quarter. This year, we were finding ways not to make plays.''
The end result for the Steelers is a season that was expected to be somewhat promising but was ultimately derailed by injuries and inconsistent play that will make the upcoming offseason even more interesting than the previous ones.
"We lost too many games early in the season,'' Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "You can't go 0-3 on the road. Yet we still had a chance [Sunday]. We were just snake bit this year. We fought hard, but it wasn't meant to be.''