The late, great Dan Rooney placed team cohesion at the top of his list of qualities that distinguish NFL champions. And in the wake of recent Steelers’ seasons marred by the discord of Le’Veon Bell’s seemingly endless contract dispute or Martavis Bryant’s extended soap opera, how refreshing it is to witness the Black-and-gold currently playing perhaps their best football of recent years in a renewed atmosphere of camaraderie.
Whether it’s the Band-of-Brothers unity between Ben Roethlisberger and his outstanding offensive line, the equally brotherly affection displayed among the Steelers’ receivers, or the newfound confidence in a revamped and improving defense, Pittsburgh may be on the cusp of yet another remarkable and memorable football story. The sea change in this team’s overall performance since it started the season at 1-2-1 has been truly exceptional, culminating in last Thursday’s wipe-out of the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field.
As if they needed any further incentive, the Black-and-gold will face off in Week 11 against their arch-rival and nemesis of the 2017 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars, in next Sunday’s game in northern Florida. What better way to extend the momentum they’ve built during their current, 5-game winning streak than to go into the house of the 3-6 Jaguars and potentially knock them out of the playoffs with six weeks remaining in the 2018 regular season? Given the embarrassing and costly nature of the Steelers’ two previous meetings with Jacksonville, this is a game that could serve as a springboard into the postseason. Just as they did last week, this game presents another opportunity for the Steelers to affirm their status as a rising and dominant NFL team.
In the three games following Sunday’s tilt against Jacksonville (facing the Broncos on the road, the Chargers at home, and then the Raiders in Oakland) Pittsburgh will have an opportunity to continue building a head of steam for the final three regular-season games against the Patriots and Bengals at Heinz Field, and the Saints in New Orleans. In particular, the December matchups against New Orleans and New England will speak volumes about how far this team has come.
But if the Steelers can continue to display the type of cohesion — and pure joy of the game — they’ve demonstrated in recent weeks, their new attitude might be the factor that gets them over the hump this season. We’ve certainly seen a much more consistent group lately, and one that can be absolutely dominant at times. Perhaps more than any other single factor, the confidence and trust these players are developing in each other with each successive game are the qualities that increasingly separate them from the pack.
For a time earlier this season, everyone was wondering exactly what the Steelers’ brain trust was up to in terms of a long-term strategy. But now I think we’ve discovered Mike Tomlin and his staff were far more patient and focused than we were as fans. The issues we never thought would be fixed earlier in the season (e.g. running back, the secondary and linebackers) have been substantially addressed, and the Steelers appear likely to go into the postseason with the wind in their sails.
Undoubtedly, some disappointments will await on the road ahead. But the Steelers team now taking shape before our eyes appears to be a group capable of overcoming adversity. Now that they’ve moved beyond their previous personnel issues, the Black-and-gold has the look of a team poised for a strong championship bid.