With their 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers have secured for the first time since 2011 a winning season. That alone is something to celebrate, considering the tumultuous past two seasons they have endured.
Of course, the Steelers have never had a losing season since they drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, even if it was a losing season in 2003 that put them in position to draft their franchise quarterback in the first place.
But the last two seasons have been mired in mediocrity, finishing 8-8 over both of the past two seasons and without a playoff berth to show for their efforts. Even though they now sit a 9-5 and with their fate for the division in their own hands, however, there’s still nothing guaranteed with two games left to play.
What has the difference been this season in comparison to the last two years? Quite simply, they’ve finally constructed an offense that can live up to its potential on a somewhat consistent basis, which has been more true lately than in the beginning of the year, when they struggled to put up points on the road.
As of this writing, the Steelers actually possess the most prolific offense in the league in terms of generating yardage, averaging 425 yards per game. More significantly, their 27.8 points per game sees them ranked in the top 10—and just outside the top five—for the first time since 2007.
In that season, the Steelers averaged just 24.6 yards per game, finishing tied for ninth in points score per game. They managed to make the playoffs in Mike Tomlin’s rookie season as a head coach, but were quickly beaten in the first round.
The closest the Steelers have come to having such a prolific scoring attack is when they won the Super Bowl during the 1975 season, during which they averaged 26.6 points per game. That was, of course, 40 years ago, during which they passed for 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 22.
The Steelers finish off their last two games at Heinz Field, where their offense has been more prolific on a more consistent basis this year than on the road. They have the opportunity to win 11 games this season, and they may have to in order to reestablish themselves as a force in the postseason, just to get an entrance ticket.
Of course, the last time they made it to the playoffs, they lost in embarrassing fashion to a player who needs not be named at quarterback. Even if they do make it to the postseason, there’s certainly no guarantee that they play more than 17 games this year.
But it would be hard to deny that the Steelers sitting here at a 9-5 mark, after looking back over the previous two season, is not some kind of progress. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it all headed in the right direction. Achieving a winning season is just one of many hurdles.