The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter I – The Pain and the Yearning*
It had just happened: an ugly postseason loss. No, not the one to the Jaguars this week. The one from a year ago. The AFC Championship game loss to the New England Patriots. It was the first time that the Steelers had reached that point since 2010, but it was the work of years of forward progress.
Pittsburgh won the AFC Championship game back in 2010, but went on to fall to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. They would go four seasons without winning a playoff game in between, first being Tebowed away, then missing the postseason entirely after a pair of 8-8 seasons.
The 2014 season began to turn things around. They reclaimed the AFC North as their own, and were hosting a postseason game again for the first time since that conference championship in 2010. But they would go on to be upset by the Baltimore Ravens, a loss that only drove them further.
The next year, they entered the playoffs a battered and bloodied team, but they exacted AFC North vengeance in the Wildcard Round, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals. They would lose to the Denver Broncos, but at least there had been success, and something to build from.
And build they did, coming back stronger. They won the AFC North again in 2016, and then toppled the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs en route to Foxboro, where they figured they would be heading again this year.
And that, many would argue, became part of the problem. That loss—and many other losses before it—is something that even certain players acknowledged fixating upon. Head Coach Mike Tomlin months ago mentioned ‘the elephant in the room’, that being the inevitable showdown with the Patriots en route back to the Super Bowl.
The 2017 journey really began from that loss. It was a gut punch, but it was fuel. They were handled, but they knew what they had to do. Le’Veon Bell was injured. Cameron Heywward was out. Other injuries played key roles.
Get healthy. Make adjustments. Come back stronger. Get the rematch, and flip the results. This is where it started. How big of a role in the end result that might have played in their early postseason exit, frankly, it’s hard to say.
But that loss influenced how the team, from the practice squad players to the front office, went about their business this offseason, and the Patriots were a cloud that hung over the entire season.
*If you knew this was a Seinfeld reference, then color me impressed. In an eighth-season episode entitled The Comeback, two of the main characters frequent a video rental store, where one of the employees, Vincent, posts his choice movies. One of Vincent’s Picks was The Pain and the Yearning, a fictional movie whose plot was described only as “an old woman experiences pain and yearning”. Probably how Mike Mitchell felt.