Commentary: The Pittsburgh Steelers…So many questions, so few answers

Steelers receivers Diontae Johnson, left, Juju Smith-Schuster, and offensive tackle Al Villanueva, right, celebrate after a Steelers touchdown. It’s one of many photos captured by Courier photographer Brian Cook Sr. during the Steelers’ 2020 season.

by Rob Taylor

Can you remember the last time the Steelers won a playoff game?

Don’t Google it. Don’t ask your friend, or family member.

Think about this for a minute. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and even those “mistake-by-the-lake” Cleveland Browns all have won NFL postseason games since the last time the Steelers were victorious in such a battle.

The year 2020 was such a challenging year, with the coronavirus pandemic trying its best to derail pretty much everything. Somehow, the NFL was able to claw its way through 522 regular season and playoff games combined, and here we are as of Jan. 20, just a few days away from the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games on Jan. 24. Mix in the upcoming Super Bowl, and there’s just three NFL games left.

We are such ardent, astute football fans here in Pittsburgh. We all knew, deep down, that the Steelers, the way they had sputtered to the regular season finish line, weren’t going all the way this year.

We can tell when a team is special, or at least has the momentum on their side heading into a postseason.

In 2004, the Steelers found themselves at 15-1, but with a rookie quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger against a proven winner in the Patriots’ Tom Brady…it was just too good to be true to think that the Steelers would advance in that AFC title game. But the following year, after Roethlisberger had his “welcome to the NFL” moment in the previous year’s playoff loss, combined with the way the Steelers “checked themselves” when they had a 7-5 mark, they got on a roll. The type of roll that could land you in the Super Bowl.

In that 2005 regular season, the Steelers won their final four games, landed at 11-5 and barely got in the postseason door as the No. 6 seed. You know what happened next. They beat Cincinnati, held off the top seed, Indianapolis, thanks to Roethlisberger’s season-saving tackle on Nick Harper, and an “idiot kicker” for the Colts that couldn’t make a 46-yard field goal at the end of the game.

Pittsburgh had that juice. They knew they couldn’t be stopped.

They went into Denver and beat the Broncos, then won Super Bowl XL over the Seahawks. That team felt like a team of destiny.

The Steelers’ 2008 team had their eye on the Super Bowl right out the gate. They went 12-4 in the regular season, had a first-round bye, easily dispatched of San Diego, held off Baltimore in the AFC title game, and no one will forget James Harrison’s 100-yard interception for a touchdown, and Santonio Holmes’ mighty man catch in the corner of the end zone to win it all at the end.

Steelers receiver Chase Claypool catches a pass against the Buffalo Bills. In the photo at right, Ben Roethlisberger launches a pass in the snow. (Photo by Brian Cook Sr.)

There was just something off about this 2020 team. They didn’t look impressive against a lowly Giants team in Week 1, almost got beat by a backup quarterback in Denver the following week, and, while they beat teams like Dallas, Baltimore and Philadelphia, they easily could have lost to any of them. My assistant pastor could run better than what James Conner, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland mustered throughout the season…

Steelers receiver Chase Claypool prepares to catch a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo by Brian Cook Sr.)

The memories of that 11-0 start are “one and done,” just like the Steelers in this postseason. They did as good in the playoffs as the team that gave them their first loss of the season, the Washington Football Team. The Football Team won their division (albeit with a 7-9 mark), just like the Steelers. They got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, just like the Steelers.

Maybe January 2022 will bring better fortunes for the Steelers—that is, if they even make the playoffs at all. If they don’t, I guess I’ll have to just head to YouTube and re-watch the Steelers barely squeak past the pre-Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs, Jan. 17, 2017, the last time the Steelers won a playoff game.


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