The five plays that most shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers' season

This hit by Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson in the season finale sidelined Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and might have cost Pittsburgh a chance to beat Baltimore in the wild-card game. AP Photo/Don Wright

Over the previous couple of weeks I reviewed a play from every game that shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers' season in chronological order. Here are my top five season-shaping plays in descending order. Please feel free to agree -- and disagree.

No. 5: Cornerback Brice McCain's 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

My take: A loss in Jacksonville would have been disastrous after the Steelers squandered a seven-point lead a week earlier in losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home. McCain, an unheralded free-agent signing the previous March, made sure that did not happen when he read a variation of rub route, jumped outside and made the easy pick-six. That turned a tenuous 10-9 lead in the fourth quarter into an eight-point advantage, and the Steelers held off the upset-minded Jaguars.

No. 4: Outside linebacker Arthur Moats' fumble recovery in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

My take: The Steelers went into Cincinnati with a 7-5 record and in a must-win situation in regard to the AFC North title chase. A back-and-forth game turned early in the fourth quarter when Moats wrestled the ball away from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton after a botched fake. The Steelers scored three touchdowns after that turnover to bury the Bengals. The way that the Steelers beat their rival propelled them on a path to winning their final four regular-season games for the first time since 2005.

No. 3: Cornerback William Gay's 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

My take: The Steelers cranked up the anxiety level of their fans when they had to settle for a pair of field goals despite controlling the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Gay’s third pick six of the season allayed any here-we-go-again feelings that might have permeated the Steelers sidelines due to losses earlier in the season to teams with losing records, and the win over the Falcons kept the Steelers on track for the AFC North title.

No. 2: Running back Le'Veon Bell's 43-yard reception in a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.

My take: No one ascertained, at least at the time, the importance of Bell’s catch-and-run in the second quarter at Heinz Field. But the Steelers were coming off a bad loss in Cleveland and the offense was going nowhere as the Texans took a 13-0 lead. Bell provided the jolt the Steelers needed, and they blitzed the Texans with three touchdowns near the end of the second quarter on the way to a season-saving win. A loss would have dropped the Steelers to 3-4 with games against the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens next on the schedule. The season might have started spiraling.

No. 1: Steelers lose Bell to a knee injury in a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

My take: There was good reason why a hush fell over Heinz Field after Bengals safety Reggie Nelson chopped down Bell following a 19-yard catch. The hit left Bell with a hyperextended knee and cost the Steelers one of their most important players for their first postseason games since 2011. The Steelers dearly missed Bell, who has accounted for almost 40 percent of their offense in their final six games, in an AFC wild-card loss to the Ravens. The Steelers will never know how much of a postseason run they would have made with a healthy Bell, and injuries are a part of the game. But they sure would have liked their chances of beating the Ravens -- and perhaps winning the following week in Denver to set up an AFC Championship Game in New England -- with Bell.