Thanksgiving day has come and gone, and the Steelers found themselves victorious on that day against a far lesser team. So, maybe I’m thankful for a weak opponent at a time when the team is still working to right a ship that, just a few weeks ago, was drifting without a rudder.
The typical stars showed up: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and receiver Antonio Brown. New faces rose to the occasion, including tight end Ladarius Green, who played just his second game for the Steelers after being signed as a free agent during the off-season; and rookie Javon Hargrave, who had the best game of his young career.
But there’s one guy who earned early praise this season before ending up on almost every fan’s [expletive] list: safety Mike Mitchell. During the team’s four-game losing streak, he seemed to regularly show up in close proximity to the Steelers’ penalties and the other teams’ biggest plays, at times acting like an unguided missile and, at others, missing a tackle or being out of position in coverage.
However, if we are being honest with ourselves and giving credit where it’s due, then Mitchell deserves a gold star, a huge pat on the back, and every other award you can think of for a job well done Thursday night. For the first time in a while, Mitchell showed up around the Steelers’ biggest plays. And while his interception as the Colts were driving may stand out the most, it wasn’t his biggest moment.
That came near the end of the first half, with the Colts threatening to cut the Steelers’ lead to just one touchdown. On fourth and goal from the one-yard line, quarterback Scott Tolzien threw a pass just to the right of the middle of the field, and it hit the receiver in the hands — but Mitchell did what he does, and knocked the ball — and, possibly, a few teeth — loose with a solid-but-legal hit, preserving the lead.
Yes, the interception was a big deal. It led directly to the Steelers’ final touchdown. He was right there again, one drive later, as William Gay got an interception of his own. All told, he had six tackles, one assist and the interception. The stat line will never show, though, the impact of several of those plays. It won’t show that Mitchell was the last line of defense on a play that could have given an inferior team new hope for an upset. It won’t show that he helped to take away the middle of the field later in the game, as Tolzien attempted nine passes in Mitchell’s direction in the first half, but just three in the second. Maybe it was solid coverage, maybe it was making receivers think twice about going over the middle. Whatever the cause, Tolzien simply didn’t seem to want to try many throws to the middle third of the field after halftime.
Unfortunately for Mitchell, his career in Pittsburgh has been marked more often than not by glaring mistakes rather than remarkable plays. He’s served a role comparable to hockey’s enforcer, whether it has been intentional or not, and it has netted him far more than one man’s fair share of personal fouls. There’s no guarantee he will survive into his next contract in the Steel City, especially with the emergence of Robert Golden and rookie Sean Davis. Hopefully, though, whatever Mitchell’s eventual fate may be in Pittsburgh, he — and we — will look back on this game as a moment for which we are all thankful he was a Steeler.