I had the headline all prepared: "Unexcused absence," and then I was going to add other stuff about the Steelers missing the playoffs in 2015 and how the early-season injuries and suspensions shouldn't be used as a crutch after having control in their own hands as recently as last Sunday.
Fortunately, I won't be able to use that headline, thanks to Pittsburgh taking care of business on the road against the Browns, 28-12, along with Rex Ryan getting his revenge, as his Bills closed out their 2015 campaign with a 22-17 win over the Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium to knock his former team out of postseason contention.
Those writers in New York and all across Gang Green Nation, they can have the fancy headlines. I'm just glad I will be able to write about a playoff game against the AFC North champion Bengals next weekend; that's much more exciting and tantalizing than talking about draft picks and potential free agents.
Back in November, after Pittsburgh's depressing 16-10 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field, I wrote that a playoff spot was still attainable, despite a 4-4 record. I wrote that simply making the postseason was a good thing, even if the expectations for Steelers faithful are always a bit higher than fans of most other teams. Sitting here right now, that feeling of elation you have, knowing the Steelers players will be boarding a plane for Paul Brown Stadium as opposed to some offseason tropical destination, I admit that feeling as Exhibit A as evidence that simply landing in the postseason is enough to make you rejoice.
If you didn't feel that way before last week, surely you do now, after seven days of uncertainty and lack of control regarding the Steelers' playoff fate. Following a 20-17 loss to the Ravens coupled with a 26-20 overtime victory by the Jets over New England in Week 16, Pittsburgh's playoff control was stripped away. A victory over the Browns and some help via Ryan's Bills was then going to be required for a playoff berth to be realized.
Most experts didn't believe Buffalo would have enough motivation to outlast a Jets team that surely had all it needed to play well enough to win and advance to the postseason for the first time since 2010. Truthfully, while I was optimistic, it was hard for me to believe it could happen. Sure, 1989 and 1993, years when Pittsburgh needed help to make the playoffs and got it, were memories that reassured me, but 2000, 2009 and 2013, seasons in-which the Steelers entered Week 17 under similar scenarios only for those scenarios to end in a negative fashion, were also fresh in my mind.
Add in the fact that some recent January 3's didn't end well. For example, six years ago, on January 3, 2010, Pittsburgh needed help to to make the playoffs and that help wasn't forthcoming. Also, just last year, on January 3, the Steelers were eliminated in the wild card round by Baltimore, in a 30-17 beat-down at Heinz Field.
Another January 3 filled with depression seemed plausible, but that depression wasn't realized, and all I'm feeling right now is joy.
Sure, much like last year, when Pittsburgh prepared for its wild card game knowing Le'Veon Bell was going to miss it with a hyper-extended knee, the days leading up to the date with the Bengals will surely be dominated by news of the health of running back DeAngelo Williams, who left the regular season finale with an ankle injury and didn't return. But I'd much rather spend the upcoming week talking about Williams' availability for a wild card game than about Mike Tomlin's worthiness to remain head coach, which surely would have been front-and-center as part of the end of season discussions regarding the team.
Fortunately, those arguments about Tomlin will have to wait at least one more week, because he and his football team have a playoff game to prepare for.
The other day, I said hope is a beautiful thing, which is true. However, hope ain't got nothin' on a wild card playoff game.