Season’s end allows team to look forward

PITTSBURGH – So the wild card wasn’t as wild as it needed to be for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They came within a whisker of pulling off a nearly-impossible four-team parlay that could have launched their 8-8 selves into the NFL postseason.

The first domino fell at Heinz Field, when the Steelers easily dispatched the Cleveland Browns 20-7 to end at .500 for a second consecutive season.

Then the New York Jets handled the Miami Dolphins. The Cincinnati Bengals took care of the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers then set their sights on the lone late game that had an impact on their chances. Kansas City had to beat San Diego, and it nearly happened.

But the Chargers pulled it out and grabbed that playoff spot, leaving the Steelers looking forlornly through the window, shut out of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

In the long run, maybe it’s better this way.

The Steelers never were a playoff team. They nearly made the playoffs because the AFC after Denver and New England is filled with failure.

Everyone else has giant flaws, and that includes the Steelers.

There’s a lot of work to do for the 2014 season, and it should start this morning.

The Steelers have to honestly evaluate their talent with one eye on game tapes, and the other focused on the salary cap.

This team has major cap woes, and it may need bold moves to make the numbers work.

The hard work will be on defense. Do the Steelers part ways with LaMarr Woodley, even though a big part of his cap hit will linger? What about Jason Worilds, who had an impact in the second half of this season after several disappointing years?

No. 1 draft choice Jarvis Jones had moments, just not enough of them.

Decisions on the secondary will be critical, too. Ryan Clark looked older than 34 this season. Ike Taylor was far from dependable.

Troy Polamalu has apparently indicated he’s no more interested in taking a pay cut than James Harrison was last season. Do the Steelers cut him loose and clear a big chunk of cap space?

Back to Sunday for a moment. It was a strange day, with relevant out-of-town highlights shown on the scoreboard. When just a couple of thousand of stragglers were left in the stadium, the announcement of the final scores of Jets-Dolphins and Ravens-Bengals brought as big a roar as they could muster.

It could have been an emotional day for some players facing their last game on the home sideline. Instead, they left not knowing if today’s visit would be to clean out their lockers or to prepare for this weekend’s wild card round.

Undoubtedly it will popular among the Steelers Nation to blame Kansas City coach Andy Reid for resting so many of his regulars, or to blame the unfortunately-named kicker Ryan Succop for missing a potential game-winning field goal.

That misses the point.

The Steelers put themselves in Sunday’s pickle with what they did in September. The 0-4 start doomed then, even when they regrouped and won eight of their last 12 games.

They could have been the team resting its regulars on Sunday if they’d found a way to win the opener at home against Tennessee (a team that went 7-9). They could have beaten Minnesota (a 5-10-1 team) in London.

Start the season 2-2, and there’s no drama on Sunday, no disappointment when a game between San Diego and Kansas City didn’t have the right outcome.

No, the Steelers have themselves to blame for missing the playoffs.

They have to get busy making sure it doesn’t happen again in 2014.

Mehno can be reached at