DENVER -- The Steelers' heartbreaking 29-23 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos could represent an emotional finish beyond the team's playoff defeat.
All indications point to this being Hines Ward's final game with the Steelers and perhaps his last one in the NFL. In a season when he became the eighth NFL wide receiver to reach 1,000 catches, Ward was targeted twice in the playoff game and didn't make a reception.
Asked about his thoughts on next season, Ward said after the game, "I'm not even thinking about that. My heart goes out towards my teammates and towards this game."
Ward was then asked specifically about his future with the Steelers. "I’m not even going to think about that. Next question."
The odds are against Ward returning because his role has diminished throughout the season. Ward, 35, lost his starting job earlier this season and dropped behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery on the depth chart in some games. In his past 10 games, he's been held to one or no catches six times.
If Ward did return to Pittsburgh, it would be surprising to see him come back at his scheduled salary. He is expected to make $4 million in both 2012 and 2013, the finals years of his current deal. It was 2 1/2 weeks ago when Ward said he had no plans to retire and could play "another year or two."
In the days leading up to the postseason game, Ward offered some thoughts on his career to the AFC North blog.
"I may not be the tallest or the fastest. But I can make catches," Ward said last week. "Half of my touchdowns are in the red zone. I've caught 1,000 balls. I don't know what more a receiver could ever ask for out of a career. I've been doing it for a predominantly run-oriented offense for 10 years of my career here."