By Ray Porter Jr
PITTSBURGH, PA–The Pittsburgh Steelers knew what was expected of them in order to make the postseason for a 3rd consecutive season: A win over the Cleveland Browns, and losses by the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. The good news was that the Steelers were able to beat the Browns 28-14, and the Buffalo Bills beat the Patriots 35-23. The unfortunate news is that the Dolphins beat the NY Jets 9-6 and with them owning the tiebreaker over the Steelers, (they beat them 16-10), they (and not the Steelers) earned the 7th and final AFC Playoff spot, officially ending the Steelers’ season.
As disappointing as it is for the Steelers to miss the postseason for the first time since 2019, they are to be commended for rebounding from a 2-6 start that had many giving up on them. They refused to give up on themselves and 7-2 in their final 9 games to finish with a 9-8 record, which seals their 16th non-losing record for head coach Mike Tomlin.
And their victory over the Browns allowed the Steelers to avoid getting swept for the first time since the 1988 season. The Browns finish the season 7-10.
“I’m appreciative of the efforts today. I’m appreciative of the efforts all year. We’re an evolving group, and that evolution continued even into today,” said Tomlin. “But I’m just appreciative of the collective. I’m appreciative of the men, not what they’re capable of, but what they’re willing to do. In the face of adversity that football presents, in the face of adversity that life presents, we have an opportunity to kind of display some things in all of that. Hopefully, we learn something. Hopefully, we taught others something in the midst of our journey.”
After falling behind 7-0 on a 10-yard TD pass from Deshaun Watson to WR David Njoku, QB Kenny Pickett and the Steelers went to work as they tied the game on a 31-yard TD pass to WR George Pickens and took a lead that they would never relinquish on a 49-yard FG by K Chris Boswell. In the 2nd half, the Steelers would extend their lead on a 4-yard TD run by RB Najee Harris (who made up for a goal-line fumble earlier in the game) and a 1-yard TD run by FB Derek Watt.
“So, I’m just thankful for that group, appreciative of the efforts today in terms of getting the job done, divisional game,” Tomlin commented.
As a team, the Steelers rushed for 148 yards (84 from Harris, 36 from Jaylen Warren). Pickens caught 3 passes for 72 yards and his TD.
The Steelers’ offense was able to capitalize from a superb defensive performance that sacked Watson 7 times (led by 2.5 from LB Alex Highsmith) and intercepted him twice (CB Levi Wallace, S Damonte Kazee.)
“We did that today, but obviously, he is a problem, particularly as he runs around and extends plays and things of that nature. That’s probably not going to go anywhere,” Tomlin said.
When asked about how they held RB Nick Chubb to 77 yards, Tomlin replied, “Late-in-the-season football, your featured runner has got to be the best-featured runner in the stadium. It was not only about challenging our defensive front, but it was about challenging our offensive front to make sure that Naj[ee Harris] had a good day. So, I think we checked both of those boxes.”
In a season that saw them win only 2 games in their first 8, lose Watt for a portion of the season due to injury and costly losses to the Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins, the Steelers refused to give up as they completed the season with a strong finish. And the credit goes to Tomlin. The Steelers will head into the offseason with the goal of building off this strong finish and preparing for a strong 2023.
“So aside from all the other things outside of our stadium and so forth, it’s important that we displayed the ability to focus and handle in-stadium business, and they did that, even in some instances as a young collective,” Tomlin stated. “So appreciative of that. You grow from that. We’ll wrap a bow around what 2022 is tomorrow. Today I’m just focused on this game and their efforts and things of that nature.”
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