During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will sit out the team’s regular-season finale vs. the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium this coming Sunday.
Tomlin also said a few other key players may be inactive for the game against Cleveland; in my opinion, the more integral cogs that can sit out in the last game before the playoffs, the better.
What’s more important: The Steelers continuing the momentum they gained with their come-from-behind win over Indianapolis on Sunday or rest for some weary veterans and even youngsters who have had their chains jerked around all season, thanks to other teams and their COVID problems?
The answer is the second one.
Here’s another question: Are you more worried about the Steelers— or at least those integral cogs—being rusty in their first-round playoff game, or are you more concerned about someone—for example, an integral cog—suffering a serious injury in Week 17 and missing the postseason?
Again, the answer is the second choice.
As for the momentum vs rest conundrum, momentum is a funny thing—it can change on a dime. Rest, however—both physical and mental—can be quite the cure-all for a lot of things that ail a football team. Most players are beat up this time of year, and while a couple of weeks of rest likely won’t fix that, it can still be restorative. When it comes to mental fatigue, there's no doubt Pittsburgh’s players are suffering from that, this year, if for no other reason than they think they are. The NFL season is always a grind, sure, but that might be especially the case when a team thinks it’s been screwed out of a bye. Did the Steelers actually have a bye? Yes, but it was much earlier than they expected. Did they also have a bit of a bye while waiting to play that second Ravens game in early December? Sure, but it also involved a lot of uncertainly, thanks to the game being postponed repeatedly. Tomlin, the expert leader of men that he is, could really boost the morale of his players by taking it easy on them leading up to and during the almost-meaningless game against the Browns.
Now, onto the rust vs. injury thing: This is an easy one. A rusty Roethlisberger is way better than an injured Roethlisberger. You could also say the same thing about T.J. Watt. Why? Because the Steelers don’t have a backup at either position who measures up to them—obviously.
Trust me, you’ll take rust over injury every single time. Believe me, you don’t want another crippling injury right before the postseason—the team has had enough of those over the past decade.
I know what you’re going to say: “I thought the Steelers didn’t live in their fears.” OK, but another motto is, “The Standard is the Standard.”
Which motto are you willing to live by? While the first one is sexy, this is no time to be macho. As for the second one, I hear Duck Hodges would love to start an NFL playoff game. What do you think?
I also know what you’re going to say: “What about the integrity of the game?” Who cares about that? True, Cleveland needs to win this game to make the playoffs, but that’s not the Steelers’ problem. The Steelers have to worry about themselves. I’m not sure if you were paying attention the past two Decembers, but teams weren’t all that interested in helping Pittsburgh out when it came to making the playoffs.
The Steelers, who have clinched no worse than the third seed and don't have to be as concerned about locking up the second seed as they would in a normal year, need only worry about their own interests on Sunday.