There aren’t many in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room who have been around longer than has Cameron Heyward, the defensive end taken by the team with the 31st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is the longest-tenured player on the defensive side of the ball, the third eldest in terms of years accrued, and the fourth-longest-tenured Steeler on the full roster.
He is also the team’s defensive captain. He is the unit’s heart and soul, and he took a tremendous amount of pride in watching them grow this season into one of the league’s most formidable units, ultimately leading the NFL in both sacks and takeaways.
For his own part, he contributed nine sacks, the second-most in his career and the fourth-most by a defensive lineman in team history. In addition, he totaled 83 tackles, by far the most in his career, with a forced fumble, and six passes defensed. He added a pass defensed yesterday that led to a Joe Haden interception.
That interception, like the entire game, proved to be meaningless, of course, falling under the ‘too little, too late’ banner. Not only did it come far too late in the game to make any kind of difference, it also wouldn’t have mattered if they had won, since they needed the Tennessee Titans to lose, and they did very much the opposite.
“It hurts”, he said from the locker room of the season coming to an abrupt end. “I appreciate these guys so much. I understand the sacrifices they make and how much we put into this game. When we fall short, it hurts, because I love these guys, I appreciate these guys. It just doesn’t sit well”.
The good news is that the defense is primed to continue its forward march. There may be a couple of key pieces leaving, namely Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave—they may be able to retain one or the other—but the rest of the unit remains intact, with reasonable internal growth expected, especially from Devin Bush, a critical piece of the 2020 puzzle and beyond.
Making his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Heyward has recorded 29 sacks over the past three seasons, along with four forced fumbles and 12 passes defensed, plus 179 tackles. He is making a continued push to be recognized as the greatest 3-4 lineman in team history. Not that he thinks about such things.
“This game will humble you whether you win or lose”, he said about the possibility of justifying their failed season due to their extenuating circumstances. ”For us to point out an excuse, that’s bull to me. I play this game, win or loss, I learn. But they got the job done today”.