Between the time Mike Tomlin vowed to ‘unleash Hell’ in December during the 2009 season and then up until the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mysterious plummet last season, they were arguably the best December team in the NFL. Even including last year’s ugly finish the Steelers are 23-6 over the past five seasons during the month. You can go back to the awful 8-8 season of 2013. They still finished on a three-game winning streak that year.
More often than not—yes, 2018 is a glaring aberration—Tomlin gets his teams up for the home stretch and finishes out the year strong, usually in preparation for a postseason run. If they intend to have one of those this year, then they must absolutely unleash Hell in December in 2019. And not in the way they did a decade ago.
During his pre-game press conference, Tomlin opened up by talking about how he was appreciative of having gotten significant contributions from players up and down the roster, even singling out Robert Spillane for his work on special teams.
“But that’s the type of effort you need this time of year, and we recognize what time of year it is; it’s December football”, he said. “We’ll be judged not by Sunday’s performance, but by our ability to rise up in the face of adversity continually this month. So we’ve got to get re-centered and refocused on our next challenge, which is the Arizona Cardinals”.
The Steelers are coming off of a two-game winning streak, and have won six of their last seven to become one of the hottest teams in football. Of course, they lost four of their first five games, so all of these wins have merely been digging themselves out of a hole in which they took up residence from the outset.
With their current run, Pittsburgh now sits at 7-5, which puts them in a two-way tie in terms of record for the second and final wildcard spot with the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee, however, has four conference losses while the Steelers have three, and so advance by virtue of that tiebreaker, for now.
But the margin for error is razor thin. If they absolutely have to lose a game, it would greatly help if this is the one that they lose to make it a non-conference game, but then they would still need help from Tennessee—who admittedly have arguably among the toughest remaining schedules in the league.
Tomlin said that he is thankful to get those small but significant contributions from the bottom of the roster, and he has gotten them, no doubt.
Whether it’s Deon Cain breaking a tackle to convert on third down on a five-yard catch, or Trey Edmunds stepping up to play fullback at the goal line, or Kerrith Whyte delivering a kick return past the 40-yard line—all of these guys were on practice squads not so long ago and are now helping the Steelers push for a playoff spot.