If there is anybody within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization that knows better than to take the opportunity in front of them for granted, it is Joe Haden, their starting left outside quarterback. Signed late in August after he was released by the Cleveland Browns, Haden never experienced a non-losing season in seven years with his previous team.
Now he is on a team—against which he frequently lost—that has already secured a division title and a home playoff game, and which is also in great shape to claim one of the top two seeds that would secure a bye week and ensure that they would not have to play on the road until at least the AFC Championship game.
“I love our chances”, he said yesterday about his team’s playoff prospects. “I’m really, really excited just to have the opportunity going into every game with this offense and our defense”. Haden is expected to return after missing the past five games with a fractured fibula.
“Our talent level is just up over everybody”, he said of the Steelers’ roster. “I don’t feel like anybody can out-talent us. We just have to be able to come out there and execute and make the plays. I like our chances versus anyone”.
The Steelers obviously have an abundance of talent on their team. They sent a league-high eight players to the Pro Bowl this year, including representatives from all three phases of the game, and they have additional Pro Bowl-caliber or aspirant talent not represented.
The biggest, and perhaps only true omission is of course defensive end Cameron Heyward, but other players such as Marcus Gilbert, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, Sean Davis, and Haden himself, among others, have at least the requisite talent level to some day play in that exhibition game to which the league clings with a death grip.
To be fair, however, Haden has not had a lot to compare with. In spite of the fact that the Browns have had an abundance of high draft picks over the course of the past eight years, a good number of them have flamed out due to poor drafting, development, regime change, scheme or culture fit, etc.
But he’s not worried about the past. The Steelers have offered him a new reality. “Just playing with these dudes, being on this team, it just gives me a whole different understanding and perspective of playing ball and what it’s really about”, he said.
“I’m just excited to play, it doesn’t matter who we play, where we play. It’s a tough road, we finally made it to the playoffs”. He misspeaks, of course. The Steelers have gone to the playoffs in the past three seasons as well, winning three games.
But who can blame him? He finally made it to the playoffs, after years of professional misery. He virtually slept in his AFC North Champions gear. Would John Dorsey have signed off on releasing Haden?