Safety Troy Polamalu didn’t miss a game and made the Pro Bowl despite spending most of the season out of position as a linebacker in passing situations. Jason Worilds emerged as a difference maker, playing so well at left outside linebacker when LaMarr Woodley went down with a calf injury that the Steelers took the unusual step of moving Woodley to the right side during his brief return.
The result, however, was nothing more than window dressing of sorts for a team that doesn’t use moral victories as the standard for success. Pittsburgh will miss the postseason in consecutive years for the first time this millennium. As encouraging as parts of 2013 were, it didn’t represent a step forward.
“I don’t think anybody’s goal in this locker room was to go 8-8 and be sitting at home during the first week in January like we’ll be doing this year,” tight end Heath Miller said. “So, in that regard, it certainly was an underachievement.”
One that will lead to more than a little soul searching as the core that helped the Steelers to three Super Bowl berths since 2005 continues to give way to a youth movement designed to help Pittsburgh keep up with Cincinnati in the new-look AFC North.
Safety Ryan Clark will be a free agent. So will defensive end Brett Keisel. Both are in their mid-30s. Both say they want to play in 2014. Both will likely have to do it elsewhere next year if they end up playing at all.
Woodley, who hasn’t played a full season since 2010, suddenly looks expendable. Cornerback Ike Taylor could fall into the same category unless he agrees to help the salary cap-strapped club by reworking a deal that currently counts nearly $12 million against the cap next year.