Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the Washington Football Team earlier this week, head coach Mike Tomlin said that he wanted to see his team smile in the face of adversity. There isn’t anything that they can do about the fact that they lost at this point. Nothing they do will change that. The only thing that they control is how they respond to the loss, after having gone 11-0 up to that point.
Even after dropping that game, they have retained their position as the top-ranked team in the AFC in terms of seeding. They are now tied in record with the Kansas City Chiefs at 11-1, but the Steelers have a better conference record, since their loss came to an NFC opponent, and that is the top relevant tiebreaker.
Short of the rookies, however, everybody else on this roster understands what it’s like to lose a game at the professional level. This isn’t new to them from a global perspective. They have weathered this before—particularly last year, when they lost eight games. It’s up to the team’s leaders to manage the response.
“We just got our first loss. We’ve got to appreciate that this is a chance for us to learn and grow from”, said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, one of those team leaders. “Soon, we’re going to be in single elimination, so we’re gonna understand what a loss feels like so we don’t have to worry about it later on”.
Technically, that is not guaranteed quite yet, though it might very well be. They have something like half a dozen playoff-clinching scenarios on the table for themselves in week 13, including simply winning one game, or having any number of teams lose their game, which would lock them in for no worse than the seventh seed, though they are still favored to at least win the AFC North, holding a two-game lead with a tiebreaker almost certain to break their way.
A number of players have already made remarks about the loss and how it has only served to fuel them to ensure that they don’t experience this again, but apparently, fans don’t want to hear from players after a loss—even fans who read blogs in which the bulk of the content is contextualizing player statements. But I digress.
The bottom line is that in sports, the ‘talking’ is done on the field. You express yourself through your performance, and whether or not what you have to say has merit is generally determined by whether or not you actually win the game.
The Steelers have managed that as well as anybody else in the league right now, but past success does not predict future performance. They still have some tough games ahead of them. Three of their final four opponents are playoff-bound.