I think it’s important that I clear something up about my postgame article published the other day that had to do with the Steelers 19-14 victory over the Ravens at Heinz Field on Wednesday and how I thought it sucked.
Even if people didn’t read the article (let’s face it, a good number of fans only react to the headlines and/or pictures without really reading the actual articles—I’ve read articles about that), I figured since it came complete with a picture of Bud Dupree running out of the tunnel in his color rush uniform, most would get what I meant.
Still, there were cries for me to stop whining and stop being so negative. I get it, the Steelers are 11-0, and guess what? I rarely care about style points when it comes to a Steelers victory. Every game could be won by a score of 9-6 and I wouldn’t care (actually, that’s not true—that would get boring fast).
I didn’t think I’d have to explain my exact sentiments in more detail, but I felt really strongly that it sucked that Dupree was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered late in the game.
Yes, I realize that winning is better than whining, but do I really have to “nut up”? I mean, I’m not the one who will be taking Dupree’s place for the rest of the year. Rookie Alex Highsmith will likely get first dibs at the role. I like him. I like his drive. I like his smarts. I like his determination. I like the fact that he was a walk-on at Charlotte and continued to grind and hone his craft to the point where he became a dangerous collegiate pass-rusher. I like that he was so productive in college, he wasn’t just a late-round pick with moxie. He was a third-round pick with great potential, someone earmarked to take Dupree’s place sooner rather than later.
I just didn’t expect sooner to arrive so soon.
I assumed the Steelers already had their fill of season-ending injuries when inside linebacker Devin Bush also went down with a torn ACL in October.
And this brings me to the point of this article (other than addressing mean comments on the Internet): Dupree’s late-season, season-ending injury is just the latest of many suffered by Steelers’ players on the eve of the postseason in the Mike Tomlin era.
The last time the Steelers made the playoffs, three seasons ago, they lost inside linebacker Ryan Shazier late in the year with a horrific spinal injury that would ultimately lead to the end of his pro career. Pittsburgh’s defense had few answers for the Jaguars in the divisional round, and it was one-and-done for the 13-3 Steelers.
The Steelers had their share of injuries in 2016—including a season-ending torn pectoral muscle suffered by defensive end Cam Heyward in mid-November—but found a formula for success, namely running back Le’Veon Bell, who helped carry them on a nine-game winning-streak all the way into the AFC title game. Sadly, Bell suffered a groin injury while setting franchise marks in playoff victories en route to the conference championship game and barely played in a blowout loss to the Patriots.
I realize that injury occurred well into the postseason, but it was the third-straight season the bell cow Bell was struck down by playoff-compromising ailments.
Bell was lost midway through the 2015 season after suffering a torn MCL.
The year before, Bell went down on the eve of the playoffs after sustaining a hyper-extended knee in a Week 17 winner-gets-the-AFC-North battle against the Bengals.
The hyper-extended knee may not have been so bad for the Steelers, had they not been forced to cut backup LeGarrette Blount for insubordination earlier in the year. As for the MCL injury the following season, again, that may not have been so had, had it not been for a foot injury suffered by backup DeAngelo Williams in a must-win Week 17 game against the Browns. I would point out that Pittsburgh also lost all-everything receiver Antonio Brown while trying to advance through the 2015/2016 postseason. However, that would continue to go against my “eve of the playoffs” theme.
But the Steelers also went into the 2011 postseason severely hampered by injury. And who could forget the Patron Saint of key players lost on the eve of the playoffs in the Tomlin era: Fast Willie Parker. That’s right, during his rookie season as head coach, Tomlin famously remarked that he would run Parker until his wheels fell off, and that’s exactly what happened. Parker, who was leading the NFL in rushing at the time, suffered a broken leg in a Week 16 game against the Rams.
The only two times that the Steelers went into the playoffs without suffering any key injuries in the final weeks during the Tomlin era—2008 and 2010—they advanced to the Super Bowl.
Injuries matter a great deal, and after coming to grips with the season-ending ACL tear suffered by Bush only five games into the season, they now must do the same thing with Dupree with just five games left in the season.
I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m not saying Highsmith or even Ola Adeniyi won’t be able to rise to the challenge. I’m just saying it sucks to lose Dupree.