Steelers left to ponder what ifs

PITTSBURGH -- Add Ryan Succop's missed field goal to the plays the Steelers will look at wistfully when they reflect on the 2013 season.

Succop, who kicks for the Chiefs, missed a 41-yard field goal Sunday night that would have beaten the Chargers and sent the Steelers to the playoffs.

The Chargers got a field goal of their own in overtime and held on to beat the Chiefs, 27-24, in San Diego -- officially ending the Steelers' season.

Succop missed by mere inches with the score tied near the end of regulation, and the Steelers' playoff fate was decided by a game played on the other side of the country.

The Steelers almost did the unthinkable by sneaking into the playoffs with an 8-8 record following an 0-4 start.

They needed eight things to break their way in the final two weeks of the season, including wins against Cincinnati and at Green Bay. Seven of them happened setting the stage for the Chiefs-Chargers game, which kicked off less than half an hour after the Steelers beat the Browns, 20-7, at soggy Heinz Field.

The Chiefs rested a lot of their key starters but never trailed the Chargers until overtime.

The improbable finish in that game brought a fitting close to a Steelers season that defied convention, consistency and any sort of script.

They rallied from their worst start since 1968 to win eight of their final 12 games but they also had a handful of bad losses, including ones at Oakland and to the Vikings in London.

What will hurt most is the Steelers know they would have been a tough out in the playoffs even if their first game would have been in Cincinnati where the Bengals have yet to lose this season.

Their offense had taken off after offensive coordinator Todd Haley lifted the reins from the no-huddle attack. A defense prone to giving up big plays had shored up that part of its game in recent weeks. Everything seemed to come together at about the same time the Steelers almost overcame odds that were longer than all three of Pittsburgh's rivers combined.

The Steelers won't take that momentum into the playoffs but their finish is something that could carry over, especially with most of the key players on offense returning in 2014.

"To be able to play some good football down the stretch for everybody to get a feel for how that should feel I think could be something to build off of," veteran tight end Heath Miller said.

As for what the Steelers turnaround from a nightmarish start revealed about their locker room, Miller said, "It should show that we believe in each other and stick together and I think that's a credit to the guys in here. When things aren't going well it's easy to point the finger or try to place blame on people but I think collectively we kept working on at and eventually we started to figure things out."

The Steelers didn't figure it out in enough time to save their season, but they came awfully close to making the playoffs after getting left for dead several times before the Chargers finally outlasted the Chiefs.

"This team fighting back, 6-2 in the second half, it's pretty cool," defensive end Brett Keisel said, "and I'm proud to be a part of it."