The final score read 48-37 in favor of the Cleveland Browns, but the 11-point differential doesn't begin to tell the full story of the Pittsburgh Steelers' collapse on Sunday night.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had a difficult time explaining the regression the team showed in the season-ending defeat, as well as in the weeks leading up to it.
"We just didn't do enough. We didn't position 'em in enough good circumstances. We didn't make enough plays, particularly in the critical moments. We were a group that died on the vine," Tomlin said when asked what the biggest difference was between the team that began the season to the one that finished it in disappointing fashion.
For a team that started the season 11-0 before losing five of its last six, the defeat will be one that lingers heavily in the months to come, especially considering the way the contest began. A botched snap between Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey, players with a decade worth of experience playing together, on the game's opening drive resulted in a Browns fumble recovery in the end zone.
By the end of the first quarter, the Steelers faced a 28-0 deficit after the Browns rattled off touchdown drives on their first three possessions while Pittsburgh followed its fumble with an interception, punt and a second INT.
From there, Pittsburgh attempted to mount a furious comeback; it just wasn't enough to either win the game or make up for the disjointed play that set the team back in the first place.
The defense, which has been considered among the NFL's best since midway through last season, surrendered the most points the club's seen from an opponent since Week 9 of the 2013 campaign (55) while Roethlisberger ended with a career playoff-worst four interceptions.
"Not a lot to say. We didn't perform well enough tonight, not coaching, not playing," Tomlin said. "You can chalk it up to the turnover game but we weren't good enough in a lot of the other areas and communication, in terms of detail. Just not a good night for us. In a single-elimination tournament, when you don't have a good night, you go home."
Since winning Super Bowl XLIII at the conclusion of the 2008 season, Tomlin's squad has gone 5-7 in the playoffs, with Pittsburgh's last extended playoff run coming in 2016 when it lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Now, after another playoff flameout, a challenging offseason of decisions are ahead. And, as that journey begins, Tomlin accepted full responsibility for his part in yet another unfulfilling end to a promising year.
"It is what it is," he said. "Our record is our record. Our performances are our performances. I don't run away from that."