PITTSBURGH -- The NFL upheld Steelers safety Damontae Kazee's regular-season suspension after hearing officer James Thrash, jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, heard Kazee's appeal, the league announced Wednesday night.

If the Steelers (7-7) make the playoffs, though, the safety would be eligible to rejoin the active roster.

Kazee was suspended without pay for the final three regular-season games after a hard hit on Michael Pittman Jr. that landed the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver in the concussion protocol. Kazee was flagged and ejected for the hit during Saturday's matchup. The NFL announced Monday that Kazee was suspended for repeated violation of rules meant to protect the health and safety of players.

Kazee had previously been fined five times this season for unnecessary roughness, and his status as a repeat offender factored into the decision to levy the harsh punishment. He will lose roughly $208,000 in salary.

"When players violate the rules intended to protect player safety on a repeated basis, and particularly when the violations carry with them a significant risk of injury to an opposing player, it is appropriate to impose substantially greater penalties," NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote in a letter to Kazee.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin stuck up for his player on Monday, saying Kazee isn't a "dirty player."

"Usually, I talk about lowering the target," Tomlin said when asked about coaching points he gives his safeties. "The target was low, and both guys were going. It was just unfortunate. I know he is not a dirty player. He doesn't aspire to do some of the things that came to light under those circumstances.

"Sometimes, it's just professional football today and how difficult it is to operate, but the National Football League is really clear, man. They put a hundred percent of the onus on the defender in those circumstances. It's unfortunate, but we understand it."

In addition to losing Kazee to the suspension, the Steelers will be without their other starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is unavailable due to a knee injury sustained against the Colts. With a depleted safety group, cornerback Patrick Peterson is moving to safety.