You know the rest, it’s that old rant from head coach Jim Mora that one time he was asked about his struggling team’s chances of making the postseason. It’s something that fans of all struggling teams now use in a mocking fashion whenever the possibility of the playoffs is even mentioned.
Steelers fans have even been known to evoke Jimmy’s rant from time to time, especially this year, given the team’s current state of affairs after starting 2019 0-3 and losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the final 14 games.
But the postseason is never truly a joking matter for Steelers fans. We are a proud bunch. Some say we’re an entitled bunch. Even the thought of coming up short in the race to play January football is really too much for many to bear.
And when it comes to this season, given the aforementioned circumstances, some might say we’re a delusional bunch.
There’s talk of the Steelers having a decent shot at the postseason as long as they simply win more often than not in the AFC North. It’s kind of a blah division, right now. Despite their preseason hype, the Browns don’t look like a whole lot right now other than a cuter version of their usual selves. As for the Ravens, they appear to be the class of the division, but are they really? I mean, they did play two of the worst teams in the entire NFL to open the season. However, when they went up against the cream of the crop in Week 3—that would be the Chiefs at Arrowhead—while they did look respectable, was that really anything new for a John Harbaugh-coached team, to go into a hostile environment and look good but not good enough to actually win? Then, of course, there are the Bengals, who, at 0-3, look even more Bungalish than usual.
When you add all of that up, it’s easy to see why Steelers fans think their team still has a legit chance at doing something positive in 2019.
You know what this year reminds me of—at least so far? 2003. That’s right, I remember that year really well, as it was the one before Roethlisberger came to town and helped create many fond memories. But the reason Roethlisberger was able to ride into town on a white horse in 2004 and soon rescue fans from having to dine on the Super Bowl memories of the 1970s for the rest of their lives was a pretty horrific 6-10 campaign the season before.
And, believe it or not, it was a 6-10 season fans denied was happening even though the losing started almost immediately and didn’t stop until the Ravens finally put Pittsburgh to bed with an overtime victory in Week 17.
All year long, sports talk shows were filled with fans insisting that the Steelers still had a chance, that the North was the weakest division in the NFL. Of course, the irony seemed to be lost on even the most enlightened fans that Pittsburgh was the team bringing up the rear in this supposed weakest division in football.
Fast-forward to today, because who really cares about 2003? The Steelers actually do have a chance to make things right in 2019. Why? It’s not Week 17, meaning the season still has a lot of meat left on its bones, to borrow a Tomlinism.
The Steelers still have time to make the playoffs, but that shouldn’t be anyone’s concern right now. They need to find out what kind of team they actually have. Are they any good at all? That was even debatable before Roethlisberger’s injury. Now? They still don’t know what kind of quarterback they have in Mason Rudolph. Nobody does. Not even him.
And that’s why beating the Bengals this Monday night at Heinz Field—something everyone seems to be taking for granted right now—isn’t a sure thing. Pittsburgh may have the worst quarterback in the entire division for all we know. Think about that for a second. Hopefully, that’s not the case. Hopefully, Rudolph can build on the six quarters of experience he’s accrued over the past two weeks. At the very least, he’s the least experienced quarterback, which is a tough pill to swallow, considering, just two weeks ago, No. 7 was seen as a magic tonic that could hide most of the team’s deficiencies as it sought to regain its rightful place atop the division.
Aside from that very important thing, the Steelers need to find a way to make their offense run efficiently without those two Killer B’s everyone couldn’t wait to see leave town. It was hard enough with the last Killer B, the Big B, still around. Now? Let’s just say the honey was severely lacking last Sunday against the 49ers.
Also, it would be nice if the Steelers defense matured and blossomed into a unit that didn’t just look good in the first halves of games. Closing games out is something that really good defenses do.
The Steelers defense needs to learn how to do that and fast.
Finally, before the Steelers and their fans can worry about the playoffs, it would be nice to get rid of that old goose egg they currently have up there in the win-column. It would also be nice if they could find their identity on both offense and defense.
Playoffs? The 2019 Steelers are just trying to find a team.