When talking about the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers, the general attitude seems to be one of angst.
That’s usually what happens when your favorite football team misses the playoffs by one half of one game. Such was the case for the Steelers in 2018 after jumping out to a very promising 7-2-1 start and holding a 2.5 game lead over the Ravens with just six weeks to play.
Actually, the very beginning of the 2018 season was anything but promising. In fact, it was downright ominous thanks to a 21-21 Week 1 tie against the Browns in Cleveland. As it turned out, that tie was attached to the cinder block that ultimately sunk the ship and cost Pittsburgh the AFC North title and a playoff spot by the narrowest of margins.
There are many things you can point to in that Browns game as reasons for the tie. You can talk about the multiple turnovers—including several by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You can point to the fumble by running back James Conner midway through the fourth quarter that proved to be the catalyst for Cleveland’s comeback from a two-touchdown deficit. You can point to the officials and a few calls that could have easily gone the other way.
But if Chris Boswell, a kicker who was the epitome of reliable over the course of his first two-plus seasons with Pittsburgh, had simply connected on a field goal attempt in overtime, none of those things would even be on our minds today.
After missing on just 10 of 95 career attempts coming into 2018, it was natural to assume Boswell’s Week 1 overtime gaffe was the exception to the rule that was his consistency since signing on with the team early in the 2015 season. Unfortunately, that miss foretold a very difficult year for the guy affectionately known as The Wizard of Boz.
Boswell would go on to miss six more field goals along with five extra points over the course of the season for a Steelers team that finished 9-6-1 and lost five of its six games by less than a touchdown—including three by three points.
After coming through time and time again for a Steelers team that finished 13-3, one might say Boswell was the unsung hero of the 2017 season.
If you’re going to say that, then forgive me for coining a new phrase to describe Boswell’s 2018 campaign: unsung goat.
Yes, we can talk about so many reasons why the 2018 Steelers ship started taking on water in late November and eventually sank to the bottom of the Allegheny River on December 30. We can talk about team discipline. We can talk about coaching. We can talk about attitude. We can talk about commitment. We can talk about turnovers by the offense. We can talk about a lack of them by the defense.
But, again, we wouldn’t be talking about any of those things—we may not even be talking about Antonio Brown as a very bitter ex Steeler—if Boswell had simply performed up to his usual standards in 2018.
And that’s why I think his ability to bounce back is perhaps the most crucial aspect of the 2019 campaign.
There’s been plenty of coverage this offseason of the team’s renewed commitment to winning, to being a cohesive and close 53-man unit, complete with leaders and accountability.
That’s all well and good, but there’s nothing that brings a team closer faster than winning games.
More than team unity, what happens at the end of the plethora of close games the Steelers will likely find themselves in will define their 2019 campaign.
If the 2019 season is anything like the previous handful of Steelers campaigns, Chris Boswell’s right foot figures to be extremely vital.
Will he be an unsung hero or an unsung goat?