With a chance to basically cement home field advantage in the postseason, the Steelers wasted a golden opportunity in San Francisco Monday night, falling to the 49ers 20-3 to fall to 10-4 on the season.
The black and gold with a win would have put a strangle hold on the conference, as they would have controlled their own destiny to home field with wins in the final two games against the Rams and at Cleveland on January 1st.
Instead, they now are back to being the fifth seed in the conference, and need either Cleveland or Cincinnati to beat Baltimore in the final two weeks, and they also need to win out in order to retake the division crown.
It was a gutsy effort for QB Ben Roethlisberger, who played the entire game, which was late in getting started and then delayed due to power outages at Candlestick Park.
Roethlisberger, playing with a grade one ankle sprain, went 25-for-44 for 330 yards with three of picks, two of which led to 49ers field goals as they led 6-0 at the half.
Field position was against the Steelers all night, and the 49ers defense was as good as advertised, not allowing much all night to a Steelers offense that has had its own issues over the last two weeks. The average start for the Steelers on the night was their own 15-yard line.
Alex Smith and the San Fran offense wasn’t spectacular either, but they were effective and mistake free, as Smith came through with some solid throws when needed.
He ended the night going 18-for-31 for 187 yards with a TD throw of one-yard to Vernon Davis with 3:44 left in the third that extended the San Fran lead to 13-3.
The game was put out of reach early in the fourth when Justin Smith stripped Roethlisberger of the ball on a sack at the Steelers 17 with 11 and a half minutes left.
They got a “leaping” call on Lawrence Timmons to give them a first and goal at the five, and two plays later Frank Gore went in to make it a 20-3 game.
San Fran scored 13 of their 20 points on the three Steelers turnovers.
The injuries kept mounting for the Steelers during the game, as already without James Harrison who was suspended, they also lost LB LaMarr Woodley with another hamstring injury in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers are at home on Christmas Eve Saturday to take on the 2-12 St.Louis Rams at 1pm.