An 0-4 start made the Pittsburgh Steelers unlikely playoff candidates in 2013, but Mike Tomlin's team battled all the way to the final week of the season, just missing out on the post-season when the San Diego Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in dramatic circumstances.
It was a mixed campaign for the Steelers, starting poorly but growing as the season went on. Improved results saw them finish tied second in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens, behind division winners the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sport Mole looks back at their 2013 season.
Hopes were high for the Steelers, with Tomlin training his team hard throughout the summer to give them the best possible chance of winning their division. Questions remained about the age of the group, with veterans such as Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger again set to play a key role. Linebacker Jarvis Jones and running back Le'Veon Bell were brought in during the Draft to add much-needed youth, with hopes particularly high for Bell - who unfortunately picked up a foot injury which meant that he was missing until week six.
Highlight of the season
Having finally picked up a couple of wins, the week 11 game with the Detroit Lions provided fans with a particular high point. Pittsburgh made an excellent start to the game, with Antonio Brown catching two touchdown passes within the opening quarter. Lions star Calvin Johnson then scored twice himself, with his teammate Joique Bell ensuring that his side went in ahead at the interval. The Steelers then shut the Lions out in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points to give their season a much-needed shot in the arm ahead of two road divisional clashes.
It simply has to be the way the Steelers began the 2013 season. Six losses by the halfway point all but ruled them out of post-season contention, but their form over the final eight weeks left them asking what might have been. Amongst their loses were some real poor performances, with defeats to the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins all slim and all extremely disappointing. Silly mistakes in some of these games cost them, and in an AFC conference which no team seemed to want to qualify from, the Steelers will view the season as a missed opportunity. Their 0-4 start ensured that it was their worst beginning to a season since 1934.
Player of the season
After showing real potential in his first three seasons in the league, wide receiver Antonio Brown had a career year in 2013. Brown was one shy of 1,500 yards receiving, and he had a team-high eight touchdowns to his name. His most impressive stat, however, was that he became the only receiver in NFL history to record five receptions for at least 50 yards in every single game of an NFL season.
Brown and Polamalu were the only Steelers to be selected for the Pro Bowl, and Bell was named as the team's Rookie of the Year. For those reasons, the unsung star was linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who recorded an impressive 126 total tackles, 86 solo. With three sacks to his name as well, Timmons proved that he remains a key part of the Pittsburgh defensive unit, six years into his NFL career.
It is widely suggested that roster moves for the Steelers should come in the form of improvement for the team's secondary. The team has led the league in total defense in two of the past three seasons, but age is a factor and some added youth can only be beneficial. Despite Tomlin missing out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season, his position as head coach has never been in doubt and he will continue with the franchise going forward. The most major change on the staffing has come in the form of ex-Titans head coach Mike Munchak being hired to coach the team's offensive line - a move which has received widespread applause from the rest of the league.
2014 prospects Tomlin will be feeling good about the way his team ended last season, with offensive weapons like Brown, Bell and Jerricho Cotchery all capable of playing key roles again next year, although Emmanuel Sanders continues to be linked with a move to the New England Patriots. With a seasoned champion such as Roethlisberger at quarterback, the Steelers will have every ambition of making the playoffs. As ever, the Bengals and the Ravens will prove strong tests in their division, but an improved start will give them every confidence that they can come out on top.