So, how did you feel after the Steelers fell behind a by score of 14-0 in the first half of their regular season finale against Cleveland at Heinz Field on Sunday?
If you were like me, you may have felt okay with it. After all, it was a meaningless game for Pittsburgh, and escaping without serious injury was the only real “gain” when all was said and done.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching it and would have loved to get my hands on a ticket to a game where I didn’t have to invoke the gods of Steelers past in order to bring about good luck for the outcome. I could just watch an actual football game between two teams and simply enjoy myself.
Of course, that’s how I, Mr. Fan, felt about things. But how do you think the players tasked to take the field and do their jobs felt?
To be honest, after the Browns’ offense put up two touchdowns on a Pittsburgh defense that was starting most of its regulars; and after backup quarterback Landry Jones was so easily sacked two times early-on behind an offensive line that was missing Maurkice Pouncey and nobody else, to borrow a quote from the great Stan Savran, I thought the men in black-and-gold were just looking for a soft place to land until the postseason started.
But something funny happened along the way to Cleveland’s “momentum building” season-ending victory over its indifferent opponent. After all, it turned out that the Steelers cared.
Near the end of the second quarter, with the Browns at Pittsburgh’s 17 and looking poised to go up by three touchdowns, there was linebacker Ryan Shazier doing what he always does, coming up with a splash play and intercepting Robert Griffin III at the 2-yard line.
Late the third quarter, with his team ahead, 14-7, there was cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun running toward the Steelers end zone with a Jones interception when, out of nowhere, came veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who’s still nursing a knee injury, to not only catch the cornerback just before the goal line, but knock the ball loose from his grasp and force a touchback.
With about a minute left in regulation and with the score tied at 21, Pittsburgh might have been ready to call it a day, following the 43-yard hook up from Griffin III to Terrell Pryor that had the Browns on Easy Street at the five. But on the very next play, linebacker Jarvis Jones stripped Isaiah Crowell of the football and the Steelers recovered. These men, by the way, had absolutely nothing to gain by winning, but were prepared to work overtime on New Year’s Day.
Even safety Mike Mitchell, who, like Lawrence Timmons, William Gay, Shazier and a host of others, was still on the field in overtime, caring enough about the outcome to accidentally provide social media with a good laugh, comically disputing a face-mask call that set the Browns up at the two. (It was priceless and something that we’ll probably be revisiting for years to come. But let’s be honest, if the game meant something, you and I would have been acting the same way in our living rooms after that call.)
Anyway, Gay cared enough to disrupt a quick screen pass to Andrew Hawkins two plays later, and Shazier finished things off with a 14-yard slam to the turf, setting up a field goal and extending overtime enough to allow for the game-winning hookup from Jones to Cobi Hamilton, moments later.
With nothing on the line except perhaps their own physical well-being, the Steelers never opted for that soft place to land on the turf of Heinz Field on Sunday.
For my money, that speaks volumes and it might be a great barometer for how much they really do care about making a deep run in the playoffs, starting this Sunday against the Dolphins at Heinz Field.