Forty-four seconds.

That’s the amount of time that stood as a mysterious barrier for the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the playoffs yesterday.  

But it wasn’t in their game in Cleveland, which was in hand with several minutes remaining.  It was a little farther north up I-90, in Buffalo.

Forty-four seconds is all that was left for the New York Jets to drive down the field and score to clinch a playoff berth for themselves, and in turn, keep the Steelers out of the postseason.

The Steelers went into the day knowing that they needed to get a win in Cleveland against the Browns, and get some help from the Buffalo Bills in the form of a win over the New York Jets.

But they couldn’t go in worrying about other stadiums, they needed to take care of business in Cleveland first.  

They wouldn’t have even been in this situation if they had not laid an egg in Baltimore last week against the 4-10 Ravens. There’s a good chance that the Steelers went into Baltimore just expecting to win easy, looking forward to the playoffs, not looking to have to work to get there.

But they did. And they didn’t work nearly hard enough or smart enough. With their less than inspiring loss, and a Jets upset over the New England Patriots, they left th playoff fate partially in the hands of another team, the Buffalo Bills.

They needed the Bills help, but first and foremost they needed a win themselves. They couldn’t take another opponent for granted. They couldn’t be worried about another game and not show up for theirs.

They didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it was by no means the best game Pittsburgh has played this season, but they did what they needed to do to get in the win column.

The Steelers head into the playoffs with arguably the most prolific offense, even with the question mark as to whether DeAngelo Williams will be available or not.

They have the third ranked offense overall, and that’s with 5 starts from backup quarterbacks, and one of the league’s top running backs, Le’Veon Bell, on the shelf for the majority of the season.

Three weeks ago no one wanted to be matched up against the Steelers, possibly the hottest team in the league due to that offense. They would have been one of the favorites entering the playoffs, assuming they won out.

But then, Baltimore dealt them an embarrassing blow and they had to see the right pieces fall in place to be lucky enough to grab the final playoff spot.

Now they’re in the playoffs as the unlikely sixth seed. They are, once again, underdogs.

The Steelers seem to be, for as long as I can remember, a team that plays to the caliber of their opponent — good or bad. While being an obvious liability in the regular season, when the competition level is higher in the postseason, it turns into an asset.

While the teams going into the playoffs for the American Football Conference (AFC) are all good teams, they are all vulnerable.

The Patriots have lost four of their last six games, the Denver Broncos and Bengals both go in with quarterback questions, and the Houston Texans barely clinched the subpar AFC south.

The wildcard teams, the Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, could very well be the most dangerous teams entering the playoffs.

The Steelers will travel to Cincinnati to play the third-seeded Bengals, in the wildcard game this weekend.

So the Steelers need to tip their hat to Buffalo and start focusing on the Bengals, because that is the only game they have to worry about this week.

If they look past this opponent, they won’t have a chance to look past, or focus, on another.

Ernecoff is a 2013 graduate of Titusville High School and is currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also an avid Pittsburgh sports fan.

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