By Jeremy Hritz
I’m not one to make excuses for this Pittsburgh Steelers team, so I won’t.
But what I also won’t do is condemn the 2012 season as being over. The last time I checked, this team is 7-6, and in line to earn the sixth Wild Card spot in the AFC. And while I am fully aware that they have not played well in spots and are as capricious as any team we have seen this year in the NFL, they have played well enough to have a chance after 13 games to get a ticket to the postseason. The cliché that every team is undefeated in the playoffs, though tired, is accurate, and as history in the NFL has shown, every team, regardless of record, regardless of how many games were won during the regular season, what happens in the postseason can be wildly unpredictable.
If recent Steelers history says anything, an outstanding regular season does not always equal an outstanding finish for the Steelers. In 2001, the Steelers finished the season 13-3, and again earned home-field advantage, but went on to lose in the AFC Championship against the Patriots. Again in 2004, during Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the team finished 15-1, yet got smoked by the New England Patriots at Heinz Field in another AFC Championship Game, 41-27. A lot good all those wins during the regular season and that home-field advantage did.
And in 2008 when the Steelers won their sixth Lombardi, they benefitted out when Baltimore upset Tennessee, eliminating the team that crushed them during the regular season 31-14. The element of luck that often factors in to the playoffs cannot be dismissed.
Sure, the Steelers have been inconsistent this year. But what team wouldn’t be that experienced the multitude and severity of injuries that the Steelers have? While we are left scratching our heads week to week why our o-line leads the way to a 100+ yard rusher, and then next week crumbles, or why our defense is a beast at limiting yardage yet deficient in producing turnovers, the most logical conclusion as to why these things are happening is the lack of continuity within the starting line-up. If anything, the constant demand on the players to prove their versatility by switching positions or by requiring younger players to step up builds the capacity of this team, and while it may result in head scratching losses from time to time, in the long run, it is part of the development process. Whether or not that development is positive or not has yet to be seen.
Are the Steelers a great team? Not right now, and not by a long shot. Are they a bad team. Ditto. But what cannot yet be said is that this is a dead team without any chance of making the playoffs and making a push. Many media pundits are quick to jump on board the hot team, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette who stated Tuesday morning that the Lombardi should be handed over to the Patriots after crushing the Texans. Yet the last time I checked, the Patriots took one in the face at the “hostile” Gillette Stadium earlier this season against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that this weekend lost 58-0 to Seattle.
The bottom line is that we don’t know anything, and from week to week, the dominant team changes.
But the goal is not to be dominant right now.
This is not to say that the Steelers will make the Super Bowl and win. Hell, they might not even make the playoffs. But the truth is, the quality and true effectiveness of this team has yet to be determined.
Last year, at this same time, the New York Giants were 7-6, had lost four in a row, and fans were calling for the head of Tom Coughlin (imagine four in a row this year!). If anything, the media was ready to blow the Giants up and move their attention to 2012. But we all know the story. They went on to win their final two games in semi-impressive fashion to finish 9-7, and then went on a tear in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl. Nobody, and they would be lying if they said they did, believed when the Giants were 7-6 that they would win a championship.
They were too inconsistent. They were too beat up. Their head coach made bad decisions. They couldn’t run the football.
Sounds all too familiar.
While our disgust from the loss against San Diego, Oakland, Cleveland, and Tennessee is great, a lot can happen in three games. And if the NFL has taught us anything from previous years, and even this season, it’s this:
Never say never.