Ex-Giants coach Jim Fassel spoke passionately after a loss dropped his team to 7-4, boasting his team was going to the playoffs.
A 7-4 team probably should be able to string enough together in its final five games to advance to the post-season. We shouldn't expect a similar rant from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, one, because it isn't exactly in his, or his boss's, nature to do so. Two, because he faces a far taller task than Fassel had sitting in front of him.
Can the Steelers advance to the post-season? They were 7-4 right up until kickoff Sunday, when they forgot to cover Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills and Ben Roethlisberger had to endure the pass projectile vomiting from right tackle Mike Adams. They're 7-5, and the question becomes even more prevalent.
Can the Steelers advance to the post-season?
They have a string of tough matchups in their final four games. Two of them are against the run-heavy Cincinnati Bengals, who, despite needing an illegal challenge to top the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have strengths where the Steelers are weak. They also take on the run-heavy Kansas City Chiefs. If the Saints had rushing success against them, the Chiefs are very likely to as well. They've also been known to batter quarterbacks and, in some cases, mar them for the remainder of the season, like they did to Roethlisberger in 2012. Throw in a schizophrenic Falcons team on the road, and the Steelers have an uphill climb to finish 8-8 again, let alone qualifying for January football.
Jim Mora's "Playoffs??" rant seems more appropriate.
At the same time, the Steelers' advantage is simply in the fact they have more offensive talent than their opponents do. As we saw Sunday, the value of Roethlisberger on this team is tremendous, and we simply haven't seen him play as poorly as he did in the Week 13 loss. It's not likely he'll perform at that level again. Remove a tipped pass interception early in the third quarter, when Roethlisberger looked much better than he did in the first half, and the game against the Saints is completely different.
Adams won't start unless Gilbert can't play, and it seems it will take an act of God to keep Gilbert off of the field next week. Add in the return of Steve McLendon, a key run-stopping nose tackle, the Steelers are going to be in much better shape.
While Tomlin shouldn't go all Jim Fassel on everyone, it's not over yet.