The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very inconsistent team, and nothing showed this more than the team rebounding from losses to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders with a huge home win vs. the New England Patriots in Week 15. However, the inconsistencies continued with an absolutely heart-breaking defeat to the Saints in Week 16. Now, the Steelers don’t control their own destiny, but are relying on the help of the Browns — the Cleveland Browns.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how history shows the Steelers’ hopes of making the playoffs aren’t dead, even if they need help to get in.
Let’s get to the news:
Lost hope? History has been kind to Steelers in final-weekend playoff longshots
By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Think there’s no hope at all? And they will have a better chance in 2019?
You only have to go back three years to realize there’s plenty of reason to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers season is not over.
With four losses over their past five games , the Steelers’ season has deteriorated to the point that they no longer control their fate to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. The Steelers (8-6-1) not only need to beat the lowly Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at home Sunday, they need the visiting Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) to beat the Baltimore Ravens (9-6), too, to win the AFC North. (Earning a wild-card berth is almost impossible.)
Heading into the final weekend of the 2015 season, the Steelers faced a similar scenario. To qualify for the postseason, they needed a win — but that was the easy part. They were 13-point favorites at Cleveland; the Steelers obliged by beating the Browns, 28-12 .
The trick was hoping that a sub-.500 Buffalo Bills team could beat the New York Jets that Jan. 3, 2016, afternoon. The Jets had won five consecutive games coming in, including beating the mighty New England Patriots the week before.
The Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions as the Bills built an early two-touchdown lead and held on for a 22-17 victory that sent the Steelers into theplayoffs . They beat the Bengals in the wild-card game before losing at Denver in the divisional round .
The Bills that day were bigger underdogs than the Browns are this Sunday: Those Jets were favored by eight points, whereas the Browns opened as seven-point underdogs — but that line is trending downward to about 5½.
Want more inspiration? It was almost three decades ago the Steelers made the postseason for the final time under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. They entered the final Sunday of the 1989 season needing not only a win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but also losses by the Los Angeles Raiders (to the New York Giants), the Indianapolis Colts (to the New Orleans Saints) and the Cincinnati Bengals (to the Minnesota Vikings).
The Steelers, Raiders and Colts games were on Christmas Eve, and each went the Steelers’ way, despite the Giants and Saints playing for no more than pride. On Christmas Day, the Monday night game was Bengals at Vikings. The winner made the playoffs, and the loser stayed home. The fates of the Green Bay Packers and Steelers also rested on the result.
Minnesota won 29-21, and the Steelers rejoiced. They upset the Oilers in Houston the following week but lost at No. 1 seed Denver in the divisional round.
Tim Benz: Steelers deserve the coal they got in their stockings
By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Despite some incredibly gutsy football over the past two weeks, it’s coal for everyone’s stockings in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room this holiday season.
That goes for the team’s fans, too.
The Steelers exist in their current playoff predicament for reasons well beyond what happened Sunday in New Orleans en route to a 31-28 loss.
No, they shouldn’t get punished by Santa Claus for the fumbles, the awful defense at the end of the second quarter and the moronic fake punt.
The officiating in that game was punishment enough for those bad deeds.
The reasons for a Christmas without playoff tickets under the tree (so far) will be what the Steelers failed to do weeks — even months — ago.
• They tied Cleveland before the Browns were any good.
• They lost on the road to non-playoff teams in Denver and Oakland.
• They blew a 23-7 second-half lead to the Los Angeles Chargers at home.
Those are games the Steelers should’ve, could’ve and normally have won.
When the schedule came out, even hyper-optimistic Steelers fans looked at this game against the Saints on the road and said: “That’s probably a loss.” The nature of the defeat is inconsequential in the big picture of their failures. Beating sub-.500 competition, when given the opportunity, was supposed to make up for a daunting challenge like Sunday’s.
Sure, we can blame the Chargers for failing to help the cause Saturday. They showed their typical lightning-bolt-shaped stripes by frittering away an important game against the Ravens. Los Angeles was favored to win by almost as much as the Saints were favored to beat the Steelers.
The Chargers’ remaining fan base spends all year waiting for the other shoe to drop. In 2018, it finally witnessed such a moment against the Ravens.
That result positioned the Ravens for AFC North supremacy if the Steelers lost to New Orleans.
Which, of course, they did.
Take a look around the rest of the league, though. The Cowboys won six of seven games since Nov. 12 to launch themselves to an NFC East crown.
Since Nov. 18, the Ravens beat four teams they should’ve and stole that victory in L.A.
The Eagles beat first-place teams in Houston and the Rams to stay in wild-card contention. That’s a task similar to what the Steelers were given by the schedule makers when they got New England and New Orleans back-to-back. Except Philadelphia won both of its matchups.
The Colts rallied to secure a road win against the Giants on Sunday — their eighth victory in nine games. That stretch also included triumphs over division rivals Tennessee and Houston to reverse a 1-5 start.
Also, those same Titans have won four straight to set up a winner-take-all showdown against the Colts next week for the final wild-card spot.
In other words, teams that have “needed it” the most of late have been the ones getting the job done.
Last week against New England aside, the Steelers have not.
That’s the true “grinchy” part of all this. As we discussed last week, the uplifting win over the Patriots probably will be nothing more than a footnote. It’ll be reduced to a fleeting memory. An inspirational win that happened in a non-playoff vacuum like Charlie Batch’s great upset of the Ravens in that cursed 2012 season.
We didn’t really want to admit it at the time. However, for as crucial as that win over the Patriots felt, in reality, the biggest event of the Steelers’ season was a game they watched on TV on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, the Ravens won it, and the Steelers lost out worse than the Chargers.
Kevin Gorman: If that’s football, Steelers are out of luck
By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Steelers responded to their 31-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints with a shrug and a half-hearted smile, sticking to a stock answer to explain how they allowed another game slip away.
The Steelers said it over and over, as if the outcome was in the hands of the football gods instead of slipping out of the hands of Stevan Ridley and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers repeated it as if it were their mantra in a season with a tie and five losses by seven points or less.
“That’s football: You can be skillful as you want on both sides of the ball and special teams,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “There is still an element of luck involved in football.”
Before you start buying into the belief that if it wasn’t for bad luck the Steelers wouldn’t have any, this is a reminder the team with the best record in the NFL needed a prayer (and a couple of controversial pass-interference penalties) to win Sunday in the Superdome.
But the Steelers wouldn’t blame officiating for the defeat that allowed the Baltimore Ravens to seize control of the AFC North heading into the final week of the season. Nor should they have, considering they knew their playoff circumstances before kickoff.
The Steelers didn’t lose to the Saints because of two pass-interference penalties on cornerback Joe Haden — the hero against New England a week prior — or the fourth-quarter turnovers that allowed Drew Brees to engineer a touchdown drive that ended eerily reminiscent of how the Steelers beat Baltimore 10 years ago to clinch the division title.
They lost because of how they responded to those plays, by failing to capitalize on their chances. They answered a special-teams success on L.J. Fort’s blocked field goal with a special-teams screw-up when Roosevelt Nix was stopped short on a fake punt.
They lost because they followed the first pass interference on Haden — a phantom penalty if there ever was one — by allowing a touchdown and then coming up short at the Saints 13 and settling for a field goal. They lost because they followed Haden’s second pass interference penalty by allowing Ted Ginn Jr. to catch a 25-yard pass on a third-and-20.
They lost because Smith-Schuster got selfish, fighting for extra yards instead of moving onto the next play in Saints territory to set Chris Boswell up for a game-tying field goal in the final minute.
The Steelers lost not because of one of those shortcomings but the combination of them. They lost because it has been a recurring theme that has cost them in close games and could now cost them a playoff berth. They couldn’t do what Baltimore did against the Chargers: Win a game on the road against a superior opponent when it was necessary.
“We had our chances, surely, in the football game,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We overcome some adversity, some of it created by us. We did not make enough plays in the end. We accept responsibility for that. We acknowledge that.”
What the Steelers need to acknowledge is they lost once again because of a belief they can always pull out a victory in the final minute like last season. They have believed this, even as the Browns and Chiefs and Broncos and Chargers and Raiders and, now, the Saints have proved them wrong time after time this season.
“Crazier things have happened, but that’s football,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “You’ve got to be not the best fourth-quarter team. You’ve got to be the best for the entire (game) or at least be able to finish it out. We just did not do that.
“I know everybody’s going to look at the situational plays, the fumbles and stuff, but there were so many missed opportunities … You can’t criticize anybody. There were so many bad plays by each individual guy that there’s no one bad play.”