“I’m appreciative of the effort”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier today following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 16-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, of the men in his locker room that were fighting for their playoff lives.
“We controlled the things that were within our control today”, he went on. “I can’t say enough about the effort of the guys”, pointing to the Steelers’ new kicker, Matt McCrane, who came to the team on Friday and made three field goals, including the game-winner.
Of course it wasn’t enough, but the Steelers did what they needed to do. They needed to win, and while it wasn’t pretty, that is what they did. The defense in particular rose up—at least for most of the day—and played as they very much should have been capable of playing against a Bengals defense that was overwhelmed by injury.
The Bengals scored just six of their 13 points on offense, the other seven coming thanks to a Ben Roethlisberger interception that was returned for a touchdown for the first points of the game. So Cincinnati’s defense outscored their offense.
“We accept the outcome”, Tomlin went on, referring to the fact that the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns, which means that the former would be the AFC North champions, and that the Steelers would be reduced to praying for a desperate outcome in tonight’s game in the slimmest of hopes of making it into the postseason as the sixth seed.
“We’ve had 17 weeks to state a case for ourselves. We stand by our work. You have to in this business”, he went on. “But it is what it is”. What that is, likely, is the end of a four-year playoff streak for the Steelers, their longest run of consecutive seasons with a postseason appearance in a while.
Were the Steelers scoreboard watching throughout the game today, desperately hoping for the Browns to pull off the upset? Is that why the team looked so sluggish for most of the game, entering halftime trailing 10-3 only after a late McCrane field goal at the end of the first half?
Whatever the reason, they handled their own business and controlled what they could control, but just barely, and that certainly fits in with how the second half of the season has gone. They haven’t had a comfortable victory since they beat the Carolina Panthers 52-21 back on November 8. Since then, they’ve only won three games, and all of them were in one-possession games.
Their ‘best’ win in that span was a 17-10 victory over the New England Patriots, which required a two and a half minute defensive stand. This is not a team that has been playing well for a while, and it’s somewhat amazing that they’ve even managed to win three of their last seven games.