Anybody whom the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted and rostered over the course of the past three years has never experienced a postseason victory. Anybody who has come in through the last two years has never even experienced participating in a postseason game, given that they haven’t qualified since 2017, when they went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye.
Outside of Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line, nobody on the offensive side of the ball for the Steelers, then, has any notion of what it feels like to go to the postseason and win a game. Some like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner may have been on the team for a game (the latter was actually on injured reserve), but in a losing effort, going one-and-done.
James Washington is among the many players now making up a large percentage of the team’s roster who don’t know what it’s like to win very much, and yet they also remain acutely aware of the expectations in the building. They hear it from guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey.
He talked about all of this and more recently with Missi Matthews during an interview conducted for the team’s website. He said that the failure to reach the postseason two years in a row “keeps that chip on your shoulder, keeps you hungry for sure”.
“Seeing the way that the older guys who have been there, won Super Bowls, or been close, just the way that they respond to losing and not making it to the playoffs just shows you the pedigree that the Steelers have made for themselves around here and the expectations that guys have on the Steelers for that season”, he said. “It just means a lot, it keeps you hungry”.
In each of the past two seasons, Pittsburgh lost in Week 16 to give up their own control over their playoff fate, but remained in the running heading into the final week of the season. In both cases, the scenario that they needed to play out in Week 17 failed to pass, though in the case of 2019, they lost anyway, and fell to 8-8 for the first time since 2013.
Of course, they did that for all intents and purposes without Roethlisberger, who only played six quarters before succumbing to an elbow injury that would put him on injured reserve and require surgery. The Steelers lost the two games in which he started, going 8-6 the rest of the way.
With the rise of the defense last season and the return of their franchise quarterback, however, there is optimism for 2020. They may lose some pieces that they would rather not, but they also anticipate continue growth from within, from players like Washington, who have the opportunity to take their game to the next level this year.