Here we are again. About to have the same conversation we’ve had countless times.
Because the Steelers have now lost three consecutive games, two of which were to two-win teams at home. The third of which came in a building they had never lost in before. And now after being 7-4 just 14 days ago, the Steelers are now 7-7 and their playoff hopes are all but dead in the water.
Even after they went three-and-out to start the game, the Steelers as a whole started fast. They jumped out to a 13-0 lead after a missed field goal set up a Mitch Trubisky rushing touchdown from the one yard-line, and they followed that up with a touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson off a blocked punt that set them up at the one-yard line- they wouldn’t score another point the rest of the game.
The Colts ran the ball at will, totaling 170 yards on five yards per carry. The worst part is that it wasn’t Jonathan Taylor or Zack Moss that devoured them in the run game. Rather, it was the likes of Trey Sermon and Tyler Goodson that made their lives hell, especially in the second half as they just grinded out the clock with run after run, and the Steelers couldn’t stop them despite being fully aware it was coming. The Colts ran 13 consecutive run plays on a 15-play drive that went from late in the third quarter to under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That drive resulted in a field goal to make the game 27-13, and an ensuing Mitch Trubisky interception all but ended the game.
Everything that happened in between was ugly, too. Damontae Kazee got ejected for a hit on Michel Pittman, which certainly didn’t help matters in the secondary. Plus, the Steelers allowed the Colts march down the field with under a minute left in the first half to score a touchdown and take a 14-13 lead into halftime. Gardner Minshew had a superb day, going 18-of-28 for 215 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 123.4. He looked a lot like Bailey Zappe did last week. Over the last two weeks, the Steelers have given up six touchdown passes to the two quarterbacks- this defense, outside of their few standout performers, has no depth, no help, and no spark.
The ultimate sign that this season was over, though, was when the Steelers still had somewhat of a chance. Down 24-13 in Colts territory, instead of opting for what would have been a long field goal in the range of 56-58 yards, Mike Tomlin punted. He waved the white flag, and the Colts ensued to go on the aforementioned 15-play drive to put the game on ice. Tomlin cannot return next season. This franchise can’t keep slamming its face into a wall year after year and hoping for different results. Are there risks with moving on from a coach who will be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But look at the team on the other side of the state as an example of what your reward could be.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl in the 2017-18 season- they fired Doug Pederson less than three years later. Carson Wentz played like an MVP in that season- they traded him less than three years later. The Eagles aren’t afraid to make the tough decisions, and they are always aggressive when it comes to making moves that will make them better. If they can get an A.J. Brown, they do it. If they can trade for a Kevin Byard, they do it. They have been to two Super Bowls in five years with completely different coaching staffs and roster constructions because they aren’t afraid of change and tough choices- the Rooneys are horrified of anything that involves going against the grain.
Staying with the issue at hand, though, this is far from the first time Tomlin’s Steelers have collapsed down the stretch. In 2009, they went from 6-2 to 9-7 and missed the playoffs. In 2018, Pittsburgh started 7-2-1 and finished 9-6-1, missing the playoffs. In 2019, the Steelers were 8-5 and lost their last three games and... missed the playoffs. In 2020, they lost four of their last five games and were eliminated in the Wildcard round after an 11-0 start. This isn’t new. Hell if anything, this is the new standard. Be good enough to be relevant for two thirds of the season, fall apart, and congratulate yourself for a nine-win season and a record above .500- that is the new Steeler way.
The Steelers have three games left, none of which are likely to matter because of their now very slim chance of making it to the postseason. What does matter is that today, Mike Tomlin waved the white flag on the Steelers, so it’s more than time for the franchise to wave the white flag on him when 2023 reaches its end. This offseason needs to be one of change. Because if nothing changes off the field, nothing will change on it, either.