PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger was helped to his feet and walked slowly to the sideline, trying to clear his head from a hard hit and a night that didn't go his way.
Postseasons don't usually end at Heinz Field. Not like this. Not to hated Baltimore.
Without injured All-Pro back Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers were one-dimensional on offense and didn't do nearly enough to stop the Ravens, who snapped a three-game playoff losing streak against their bitter rivals with a 30-17 victory Saturday night in the AFC wild-card game.
"This is going to sting for a while," Roethlisberger said.
All over Steel City.
The Steelers (11-6), who had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns in the first half, closed within 20-15 in the fourth quarter but gave up 10 straight points. Roethlisberger, forced from the game for a few plays with a neck injury after he was sacked with Pittsburgh down by 15 and desperately driving, threw an interception in the end zone with 2:57 left to seal the Steelers' fate.
Roethlisberger finished 31 of 45 for 334 yards and threw two interceptions. He was sacked five times by the Ravens, who were in his face for four quarters and finally left Pittsburgh victorious following three agonizing playoff losses.
Following the game, Roethlisberger slowly dressed at his locker, grimacing as he pulled his shirt over a large wrap around his right hand.
The black and gold were black and blue.
"Not the outcome we wanted," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We didn't make enough critical plays and they did."
With Bell sidelined by a hyperextended right knee, the Steelers only rushed for 68 yards and weren't able to keep Baltimore's defense from pinning back its ears and going after Big Ben.
Tomlin refused to blame Bell's absence for a loss that wasn't even as close as the score would suggest. Bell would have made a difference, no doubt.
"We're not going to let that be the story of this game," he said. "That's why you have 53 men on the roster."
Roethlisberger was particularly tough on himself afterward, accepting that he didn't do enough to prolong Pittsburgh's season.
"Anytime you turn the ball over, it's frustrating," he said. "That's why I wanted to apologize to the fans, to my teammates, to the organization, the Rooneys, coaches. It's frustrating and I wish I could apologize individually to everybody."
Pittsburgh did move the ball in the first half, but two trips inside Baltimore's 35 were slowed when Roethlisberger was sacked. One of the takedowns came from massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who returned Friday from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
"You don't like settling for field goals," Tomlin said. "We acknowledged at the start of the week that this was a stingy defense. We knew it would be tough sledding."
Despite not scoring TDs, the Steelers were within 10-9 at halftime, but it never felt as if they owned the momentum and when Joe Flacco threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Torrey Smith with 4:13 left in the third, some of the Steelers faithful were ready to throw in their Terrible Towels.
Pittsburgh got new life when Ravens running back Justin Forsett fumbled, and Roethlisberger capitalized with a 6-yard TD pass to Martavis Bryant to make it 20-15. However, the Steelers failed on their 2-point attempt, and Baltimore went up 23-15 on Justin Tucker's 52-yard field goal.
On Pittsburgh's next possession, Roethlisberger's short pass went off Tate's hands and was intercepted by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who secured the pick by squeezing it between his legs.
"I tried to get him the ball and I put too much mustard, too much heat on the high ball for him and that's just something where he's not used to playing with me," Roethlisberger said. "I have to know better and get him a better, more catchable ball. Suggs made a great play."
Their season over earlier than they expected, the Steelers now head into uncertain future. There's no telling what the roster could look like in a few months as veterans such as Ike Taylor and James Harrison are not expected back and safety Troy Polamalu hasn't indicated if he'll stick around.
As the players dressed, Steelers owner Dan Rooney worked his way around the locker room, congratulating his players with a handshake and hug.
"This team is not going to be the same next year and it breaks my heart," said defensive end Cameron Heyward, his eyes reddened. "I don't know what it's going to look like and it's hard to talk about that."
NOTES: Roethlisberger (279) surpassed Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw (261) for the most career completions in team playoff history. ... WR Antonio Brown caught nine passes for 117 yards. ... The Steelers dropped to 21-10 at home in the postseason. ... Polamalu finished with a team-high eight tackles in his 15th postseason game.
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