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“That’ll be tough, but all the older guys, they installed the mindset of playing Steeler football,” cornerback William Gay said. “New captains are going to have to step up, guys that have been around, and it’s just the same old thing: playing Steeler football. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

They’ll do it with an offense that piled up yards but not points.

Ben Roethlisberger battled through a sprained left foot, a fractured right thumb and a badly sprained left ankle to top 4,000 yards passing for the second time in his career but the Steelers averaged 20.3 points per game, hardly enough in a league where the best teams put up video game numbers.

“We feel like we really have great potential to be a really good offense,” Roethlisberger said. “I told a lot of guys that. We can be great, we just have to put in the work in the offseason. A lot of that’s going to fall on me.”

Particularly if veteran Hines Ward retires or moves on. He shot down rumors that he was hanging it up following a season in which he had just 46 catches, though he did collect the 1,000th reception of his career in the regular season finale.

He’s become a mentor as he’s aged, and he may have been too good for his own good. The maturation of Mike Wallace and the ascension of second-year receiver Antonio Brown _ who set a team record for all-purpose yards _ into one of the league’s top young wideouts dropped Ward to fourth or fifth on the depth chart.

“We all know the direction in which we’re going with the receiving corps,” Emmanuel Sanders said. “But, like I said, Hines is still a great addition, just the knowledge he brings to the room. You can’t pay for that. You can’t coach that. He just brings that well-being of how to be a pro into the room.”

It’s the “Steeler Way,” even if the road didn’t lead to a familiar destination.

The team spent most of the season playing from behind, getting beat down by rival Baltimore in the season opener then never really catching up. Each time Pittsburgh had a chance to take control of the AFC North _ in Week 8 against the Ravens, in Week 14 against San Francisco _ the Steelers would lose.

Now they’re at home while the Ravens’ season continues. The team stresses it’s an anomaly, not a changing of the guard no matter who is wearing black-and-gold next season.

“It’s tough to say right now, but we’re very talented and we have a lot of young guys, so we have a good mix of experience,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “Time will tell.”