Miller the latest casualty in Steelers’ season

December 25, 2012
Steelers tight end Heath Miller is examined by a team doctor late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals Sunday. Miller left the game, which the Bengals won. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – It’s only fitting for the Pittsburgh Steelers that their 2012 season will come to a close with the team dealing with the one constant it had throughout the campaign – injuries.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Monday tight end Heath Miller, the team’s leading receiver, will require surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee and will not play in the Steelers’ regular season finale Sunday at Heinz Field against Cleveland.

“Unfortunately, his season will come to an end,” said Tomlin. “He’s been rock-solid for us, and we really appreciate his efforts.”

Miller was injured in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 13-10 loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals while run blocking. His injury is the 17th suffered by a Pittsburgh starter this season, including those by players replacing injured starters. Those injuries have cost the Steelers (7-8) a total of 67 missed games, testing the depth throughout a disappointing season.

Injuries are a big reason why the Steelers will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season and face the prospect of their first losing campaign – if they lose to Cleveland – since 2003, the year before they selected Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the draft.

The Steelers dealt with injuries well in previous years. This season, they seemed to occur in bunches at certain positions, most notably right tackle, cornerback, running back and quarterback down the stretch.

“It was hard to get going,” admitted Roethlisberger, who accounted for three of those missed games with shoulder and rib injuries suffered Nov. 12 in a win over Kansas City. “We never make excuses. We had a lot of injuries, but we have always done well filling in.”

The injury to Miller was particularly disheartening to his teammates. Miller, who finishes his season with 71 receptions for a career-high 816 yards and eight touchdowns, also a career best, is one of the most respected players in the Steelers’ locker room.

“When you have a guy like that who is so committed to the team, who’s always going to give 110 percent, it’s always going to hurt,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who suffered a hip rotator strain against Cincinnati. “He had an opportunity to play in the (Pro Bowl). It’s a horrible way for him to go out, especially with all of the effort he gives every day.”

Miller wasn’t the lone Steelers player to suffer a season-ending injury in Sunday’s game. Running back Baron Batch fractured his arm covering a kickoff in the first half and had surgery Monday morning.

Tomlin said the Steelers will make some roster moves to replace injured players for the finale, but added the team will not play young players just to get them playing time.

“Injures will be the primary reasoning that drive personnel moves for us this week,” said Tomlin. “This is an opportunity for us to play and play to win to get this sour taste out of our mouths, so I’m not going to approach it with that mentality.”

Odds and end zones

Tomlin said he remains unsure if cornerback Ike Taylor, who missed the past three games with a hairline fracture in his ankle, will play this week. … Rookie guard David DeCastro suffered a hamstring injury Sunday and is questionable. … With Sunday’s loss, the Steelers’ opponents are set for the 2013 season. They will host Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago and Detroit. The Steelers will visit Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, New England, N.Y. Jets, Green Bay and play Minnesota in London.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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