This has become a bit of a trivia question at this point, but did you know that prior to the final eight seconds of Thursday night’s event, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns actually played a football game? And that the Steelers lost, putting their postseason hopes in jeopardy just after they had put themselves in that conversation for the first time all year?
What happened in those waning seconds, culminating in Browns defensive end Myles Garrett assaulting quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet, has overshadowed the fact that there was an actual game with an actual result that actually puts the Steelers’ season in jeopardy.
Even multiple Browns players said after the game, including wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., that the way the game ended made it feel as though they had lost, rather than won. Yet they did win, 21-7, and in two weeks’ time could have a better stake at a playoff spot than Pittsburgh.
Cameron Heyward is all too aware of this.
“The most important thing is we lost that game”, he told reporters. “I know that got overshadowed by a lot of things, but as a defense, we didn’t play well. We were on the field too much, and that’s our fault. They drove the ball and had a lot of success. You’ve got to learn from that. I’m not going to hide away from that. I know we didn’t play how we’ve been playing, but that just means we’ve got another week to step it up. The great thing about it is we play them twice. But going forward, we’ve got to play better than we did”.
The defense had been playing lights out for the better part of the season, roughly a span of seven games, since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick via trade. They had recorded at least two takeaways in eight consecutive games, and hadn’t allowed a single play of 40 or more yards. Instead, they allowed two 40-plus plays and failed to take the ball away
Now they have to put the past week behind them and move on, focusing on the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have not traveled well this season, and they have to head to Cincinnati for this game, even if the Bengals have gone 0-10 this year.
Pittsburgh understands the situation they’re in. I fully expect head coach Mike Tomlin to refer to their predicament right now as a fragile one. It was just two weeks ago today that he told reporters he was happy to be 4-4.
They’ve gone 1-1 since then and lost the control they had just gained on a spot in the playoffs. And they got no help from the other teams competing for that spot. So it’s back to the drawing board, as they once again need help to move on.
But the defense knows it has to help itself. They didn’t play up to the level that they had come to expect from themselves, and the only way to work on that is to simply play better.