In a season that got off on the wrong foot in Denver, the Steelers were haunted throughout by an assortment of ills -- injuries, untimely turnovers and uncharacteristic distractions.
The wounded list was long: safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Ike Taylor.
The turnovers too many: Roethlisberger's back-breaking picks against Dallas and Cincinnati -- losses that banished the Steelers from the postseason for the second time during the Mike Tomlin era.
The distractions significantly impacted the team's psyche: Alameda Ta'amu's suspension for drunk driving and Rashard Mendenhall's suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Yet, perhaps the most telling mark on this sometimes- inconsistent team is its lack of an identity -- except for a defense that consistently plugged every hole until the dam broke at Heinz Field because of another game-changing interception by Roethlisberger.
"They're not coming together for us ,and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard," Tomlin said during his Monday news conference. "We just collectively have not made the necessary plays at critical moments to win enough of these close football games to not be having this discussion."
Jerricho Cotchery, a veteran wide receiver, diligently searched for the right words to describe the Steelers. Or, at least, explain their apparent identity crisis.
"We wanted to come out and establish the run against Cincinnati," he said. "In key situations, like third down, we couldn't capitalize.
"Eventually, we had to flip the ball to give the defense some breathing room. We just didn't have anything going on. …