This must surely be a trying experience all around the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room, but it sounded as though it was especially trying for third-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt who not only had a season filled with adversity in his own right, but was forced to step up in a major way in terms of becoming a team leader.
You will recall, of course, that the Steelers spent the better part of the season, when all was said and done, with defensive end Cameron Heyward, whom, entering the season, pretty much everybody will have agreed was their best player on the defensive side of the ball.
Heyward had never missed a game in his career prior to this season, but he dealt with a number of injuries this year, not all of which he was able to play through. The first time he was forced to sit out a game, the defense was clearly unprepared to fill the void that he left, as the Dolphins dominated them on the ground.
It still took some time after that, but over the course of the season, the Steelers did learn how to play without Heyward in the lineup, and, as should not be surprising, a lot of that had to do with the continued growth of Tuitt.
While he may not have been all over the stat sheet this season the way that he was last year—in this game last night, he recorded just one tackle if all that you cite is the official stat line—he still had a big season for the Steelers, and finished with four sacks, three passes defensed, and a pair of forced fumbles.
He, too, had to deal with injuries this year, and he missed the final two regular-season games (as well as most of the game before, as he suffered a knee injury on the third play of the game) at a critical stretch of the season, as the Steelers had their sights set on the division title.
They managed to accomplish the task without him—barely, requiring a couple of come-from-behind victories—but his return in the postseason, even at less than 100 percent health, was a clear boost, and his consistent pressure was a key component of the Steelers’ defensive turnaround over the course of the second half of the season.
Jeremy Fowler described him as “emotional” in his post-game remarks last night. Tuitt said that “we have to use this to get better”, Fowler Tweeted. “We can be a dominant team”. And he knows that he is an integral part in achieving that goal. And he also knows how much he can step up after this season.