The upcoming game is the one that matters the most. A few days pass from the previous game, even the media stop talking about it. Yet, conversations surrounding the team's higher level performance of the year never stop.
Steelers free safety Ryan Clark knows the drill. He has loads of NFL experience, and few seem to understand the position media have in covering respective teams.
He raises an interesting question in a recent interview with Post Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette.
"For us, we just have to go out and play next week," Clark said, as quoted by Bouchette. "We can't start looking at numbers, you can't start saying we're out of it. We have to win next week. We have to find a way to put enough plays together to get a 'W' and then you move off there.
All valid points. The reasonably-minded would agree with him. But what happens when there is no way for a team to make the playoffs?
Neither Clark, nor the Steelers, have much of an idea of that.
The Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns in a throwaway Week 17 game last year. That's the last Week 17 team that meant nothing for the team without a playoff game coming in one of the next two weeks that followed it. Sitting at 2-5, one loss away from the worst eight-game start the team has had since 2006, there is a distinct possibility the Steelers are eliminated from playoff competition significantly earlier than they were last year.
So what do teams in that spot do? The NFL Trade Deadline is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, and it doesn't appear likely any moves regarding the Steelers will be made (certainly a possibility though). Benching the veterans won't exactly help their reputation among players in the league - players still have performance bonuses to reach. Giving the younger players more time seems pointless, because most of them already are playing.
Playing for pride certainly won't inspire the fan base, but that's probably the only realistic approach for the team to take. It's a morbid thought heading into a Week 9 tilt against 6-2 New England, but maybe that's all they have left.
Even at 2-5, though, running the table the rest of the way would likely result in a playoff berth. Judging by the Steelers' performance against Oakland, that seems a tad long in the odds, to put it mildly.
For now, the focus is on the next game, but it won't be long before the team enters into "meaningless" territory.
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