With seven games left in their 2021 campaign, you might say the Steelers are at a bit of a crossroads.
The way they’re playing each and every week, it certainly does feel like they’re teetering on the brink of one of them there collapses. End-of-season implosions have been a thing for Pittsburgh the past few years, dating back to 2018. In fact, it was on Thanksgiving Weekend of 2018 when the Steelers visited a rather nothing Denver team; would they overlook the Broncos? I don’t know if the Steelers overlooked Denver, but they certainly fumbled a lot and threw a key interception or two. The defense was suspect. The offensive playcalling wasn’t ideal.
Also, I don’t know if you remember the aftermath of that game, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, then a radio star on par with Joyce from Johnstown, kind of called out Antonio Brown for the endzone interception Roethlisberger threw that iced the game for the Broncos. This led to a domino reaction in which AB imploded, self-destructed and collapsed.
But that’s an article for another day.
Anyway, the Steelers, a team that once held a 2.5 game lead with six games left, ultimately missed the playoffs entirely. The Steelers were sitting at 8-5 one year later and held the fifth seed in the AFC with three games left. Even without an injured Roethlisberger in the lineup for all but six quarters in 2019, Pittsburgh looked primed to claim a wildcard spot in the postseason.
The team imploded again last year after starting out 11-0. Sure, the Steelers made the playoffs anyway (kind of hard not to with the math), but they were essentially D.O.A by the time they started.
That’s enough of a history lesson. You certainly didn’t come here for that, but I’m just pointing out the immediate past because the immediate present feels an awful lot like one of them collapses for the Steelers. Pittsburgh has tied and lost its past two games. That’s how implosions start, ya know? They start with an innocent tie against an inferior opponent. You might not think much of it at the time because, well, Mason Rudolph started at quarterback. Collapses often gain momentum with last-second losses on the road. You could say the Steelers showed great resilience by battling back from a 17-point deficit to almost best the Chargers last Sunday night, but you could also say, “Yikes!”
My point is this: the Steelers need to beat the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon. For one thing, it’s the Steelers home away from home (or at least it used to be). For another thing, Pittsburgh really needs this game. For a third thing, I don’t want to live in a world where Cincinnati is the Steelers big brother and not the other way around.
In case you haven’t been paying attention the past two times these teams have played, the Bengals have put some whoopings on Pittsburgh; I’m talking about some very thorough beatdowns.
It would be nice to put an end to that. It’s also quite important. One glance at the AFC playoff picture tells me that the Bills, Patriots, Colts, Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs and everyone in the AFC North is in the hunt for something. Obviously, there will be division winners, which narrows the wildcard field, but that still leaves six teams battling it out for the three wildcard spots over the final six weeks.
I don’t want to be blasphemous. Sure, the Steelers, 5-4-1 and 1.5 games behind the Ravens, still have a shot at the division title; a realistic shot, you might say. But I’m talking about contingency plans, and another loss or two could really put a postseason berth of any kind in serious jeopardy.
This is why the Steelers MUST go to Cincinnati and win this game. They must make us quickly put away those fears of another end-of-season collapse. They MUST reestablish dominance over their little brother in the AFC North.
You can work with 6-4-1. As for 5-5-1? That could push a lot of panic buttons around Steeler Nation.