Thanks to a season sweep at the hands of AFC North rival Baltimore, the Steelers (9-6) may quite possibly miss the playoffs in 2015.
Then again, they might not, if all the right dominoes fall on Sunday--including Pittsburgh defeating the Browns, and the Bills taking care of business at home against Rex Ryan's old team. For the Ravens (who came into Sunday with a 4-10 record and nothing else to play for but pride and bragging rights), Week 16 was their Super Bowl; Pittsburgh still might actually get to play in one.
There are people who love Mike Tomlin, and then there are those who hate him and want to see another coach take over on the sidelines. If you love Tomlin, you heap much praise upon him, including the fact that he's never had a losing season in nine years and has only coached one game in-which his team was already eliminated from the playoffs.
I remember that game, and it occurred on December 30, 2012. One week earlier, Pittsburgh's playoff chances came to an end, thanks to a 13-10 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field. Despite the Steelers controlling their own playoff-fate (two wins, and they were in), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a mostly forgettable game, completing 14 of 28 passes for 220 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The curtain-jerker for the 2012 season was another home date, this time against the Browns; I met my uncle and his friend at some private club somewhere in the East suburbs (maybe Monroeville, but it could have been Turtle Creek or some other place) and watched the game on a big screen TV. I drank a few beers and had some snacks, but that day was kind of depressing. I knew the Steelers were going to win; the Browns were 5-10, and, instead of Brandon Weeden, someone named Thaddeus Lewis was starting his first NFL game at quarterback. Pittsburgh controlled most of the action and never trailed. Late in the game, as I sat there in that club and watched Roethlisberger connect with receiver Plaxico Burress on a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-10 with 3:20 left to go and pretty much assuring a win, I thought, "Man, wouldn't this have been great if a playoff berth was the prize?"
Fast-forward to this season. The Steelers entered their Week 16 match-up against Baltimore facing the same scenario as three years earlier: Win their last two games, and they were in the postseason. Unfortunately, just like the 2012 penultimate contest, Pittsburgh played sloppy and Roethlisberger threw two picks in a three-point loss to a division rival. But while the loss took control away from Pittsburgh and its playoff chances, it certainly didn't end them.
As the Steelers travel to Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday to take on a Browns team with a 3-12 record, they will be facing quarterback Austin Davis, who will be making his first start of the 2015 season, thanks to a concussion suffered by Johnny Manziel. Yes, there are parallels to Ryan Mallett making a surprise start against Pittsburgh, just 12 days after the Ravens signed him, but the Steelers, 10-point favorites, are probably going to win this game rather easily (or at least that's the hope).
Unlike three years ago, if Roethlisberger connects with one of his receivers late in the fourth quarter to give the Steelers an insurmountable lead this time around, depending on how well Buffalo is performing at home against the Jets, there might actually be a reason to jump up and down, instead of simply reaching for the next sip of beer.
The other day, I wrote about, among other things, the end of the 2013 season and how the Steelers came oh so close to making the playoffs, before Ryan Succop missed a field goal to squash those dreams. You know what my favorite part of the entire 2013 season was? The three hours after Pittsburgh took care of the Browns at Heinz Field, 20-7, and I got periodical text updates about the Chiefs/Chargers game via my brother, who, unlike me, was watching the action as it unfolded.
Due to nerves, instead of the West Coast NFL action, I sat through a rerun of Burn Notice on some cable channel, before popping in a DVD of the pilot episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. While I couldn't bring myself to watch Pittsburgh's playoff fate unfold, I was hopeful, especially after I received a text from my brother that stated Kansas City was ahead, 24-14, in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, as I watched Steve Austin save the world in 1974, in 2013, things were falling apart rather quickly in a football sense, thanks to the events in San Diego.
But some hope is better than none at all.
Next week at this time, I could be writing about a Steelers' upcoming playoff game, or I could be reviewing the 2015 season as it quickly fades into the background. Isn't that normally how it goes with postseason football?
No, the Pitttsburgh Steelers aren't in the playoffs, but they still could be.
Hope is a beautiful thing.