“Man, we got a lot of warts. But we're here, and that’s been our position since September.”
That quote was from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following his team’s 16-13 overtime win against the Ravens in the regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Leave it to Tomlin to sum up the 2021/22 Pittsburgh Steelers so succinctly.
Has there ever been a Steelers regular season as ugly as the just-completed one? Has there ever been a Steelers team with so many visible warts, warts that were there each and every game, heck, each and every quarter of each and every game?
I’m sure there has been, but not since about Season 7 of Night Court.
Sunday was clearly no exception in terms of beauty and style, certainly for the offense, as Pittsburgh needed 60 minutes of regulation and almost the entire 10 minutes of overtime to score 16 points. Sure, it was against Baltimore, the Steelers' biggest and toughest rival, but Matt Canada’s unit has made just about every opposing defense look like the 2000 Ravens all season.
But the Steelers prevailed in the end. It was their ninth ugly victory of the season, and not only did it give Tomlin yet another winning record, but it also vaulted Pittsburgh into the playoffs with the help of the Jaguars’ unbelievably easy victory over a win-and-you’re in Colts team that may have more talent but apparently not as much heart as these Steelers.
Had the Colts made the playoffs, they surely would have been a sexy choice as “a team nobody wanted to face,” but now they’re a team that nobody will have to face.
The Steelers will probably mail the Jaguars some Heinz ketchup or whatever (hey, it’s still Heinz Field until it isn’t) and maybe the Raiders, too, for having the heart to beat the Chargers when a tie would have done their playoff fate just fine (I mean, talk about almost having your dreams snatched away when you didn’t think it was even possible).
It was another great day for the defense, which was nice to see, especially since the Chiefs and their high-flying offense will be the opponent on Wild Card Weekend.
That’s okay, though, and that’s also a topic for another day. As for these 2021/22 Steelers? They appear to be about as healthy as they can be heading into the postseason, including their best player, T.J. Watt, who clearly wasn’t himself during that 36-10 shellacking at Arrowhead Stadium the day after Christmas.
Again, though, that’s a topic for another time.
Right now, it’s a good day because the Steelers are in the playoffs. Their identity is their identity, and that’s not going to change by next Sunday at 8:15. They’ll head into Kansas City as a team that knows it can only win one way—ugly—and that’s probably just fine by them.
Back to that man, again, head coach Mike Tomlin. Perhaps his greatest ism is the one about style points not mattering.
If any of Tomlin’s previous 14 squads embodied that phrase better than the 2021/22 version, you’d be hard-pressed to name it.