Title team born in Steelers' loss

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (TNS)

DENVER — The saddest locker room you'd never want to be in offered a couple of unforgettable scenes Sunday night.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on track to start Sunday vs. Baltimore.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert leaned against a wall, his eyes red from fighting back tears. Next to him, sitting on a shelf, coach Mike Tomlin glared seemingly at nothing and nobody in particular.

About 20 yards to their right, injured running back DeAngelo Williams ran interference with the media for one of his replacements, Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose fumble preceded a Denver Broncos fourth-quarter rally the Steelers never saw coming.

Across the room, veteran linebacker James Harrison pulled his head from his hands and looked upward at Dan Rooney.

“I'm sorry,” Harrison said, as his calloused right hand was squeezed tightly by the left one belonging to the Steelers' 82-year-old, Hall-of-Fame chairman.

A little later, as Rooney stood near the locker room's exit, Tomlin passed.

“A screeching halt,” Tomlin said. “It ends like a screeching halt.”

Every champion begins somewhere.

We'll look back at Sunday as the afternoon when the Steelers' next championship team was born.

“It's too early to think about ‘What ifs',” tight end Heath Miller said after the Steelers' 23-16 loss to the Broncos at Sports Authority Field.

Not when you're thinking about “what ifs” two years in a row, it's not.

Actually, right now wouldn't be the worst time to take a deep breath and look at what transpired over the past couple of weeks, let alone the last few months. You'll find the makings of something potentially sensational.

Martavis Bryant grew up after getting called out.

Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones started looking like the impact linebackers the Steelers envisioned when making them first-round draft picks.

Chris Boswell never seemed to miss a kick.

And the defense that was being rebuilt allowed three touchdowns and five field goals in two road playoff games.

“We're close,” Jones said. “We're real close. We know it. Believe me, everyone in this room knows it.

“It's real close for us.”

It's also really weird how the Steelers' seasons have ended over the past 13 months.

They lost their starting running back in the regular-season finale two years in a row. And do you even want to know how many NFL teams have played in the postseason without their leading receiver and rusher?

In the Super Bowl era, the answer is one: this year's Steelers.

If Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams had played against Denver, the Steelers would be headed to New England next Sunday.

If the Steelers could have dressed Brown and Williams against the Patriots, they would have presented the greatest threat to the repeat aspirations of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

The loathsome Patriots are going to win their fifth Super Bowl. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn't take down the Patriots' latest rebirth, who can?

It's a big task. It's going to take something special.

It's going to take the Steelers as we've not seen them yet: healthy when it matters.

The Steelers boast an offensive line featuring All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, arguably football's finest interior 1-2 punch; a receiving corps featuring a maturing Bryant, arguably football's most physically gifted wideout; a defense boosted by a couple of early-round-pick cornerbacks; and arguably one of football's most dynamic front sevens.

And it's going to take the NFL's best quarterback, receiver and running back being available in the postseason. Imagine next January with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell playing for the Steelers.

“That would be nice,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said as he entered his team's sad locker room Sunday.

Yes, sir. I'd like to be in that locker room.

Wouldn't be a sad place.

It would be super.