A funny thing happens when you lose games. People start questioning you and doubting you, even if you never do that yourself. Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers came into Sunday’s game riding a three-game losing streak while clearing not having played their best ball over the course of the past month, they never actually stopped believing, as a team, in their ability to be great.
Things really seemed to bottom out last Monday when they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, who had just two wins at that point and were starting their backup quarterback to their backup quarterback, second-year Ryan Finley. It was surely an embarrassing and disgraceful loss, but it was also one game, and an outlier.
The first half of Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts began as seemingly more of the same, but they showed their resilience in the second half, holding the visitors to just three points on the opening drive of the second half, while the offense put up 21 points to complete a 17-point comeback.
“We haven’t lost confidence”, cornerback Mike Hilton said after Sunday’s win, during which he recorded both of the defense’s takeaways. “We know what type of a team we’re capable of being when we’re playing well in all three phases, and show what we can do. We know as a team we all work as one to be able to succeed”.
The second half was the first time in a month that the Steelers really got that complementary football that head coach Mike Tomlin is always talking about. For example, when the offense stalled on the two-yard line and turned the ball over on downs, the defense stuffed the Colts, gave the offense good field position, and then Diontae Johnson is diving into the end zone a short time later for a 39-yard touchdown.
“Guys are still confident. Guys are still locked in”, Hilton said. “Those three losses weren’t the end of the road, so nobody was stressing. We just knew that we had to refocus up, and we did that today, and now we’re AFC North champs”.
They are AFC North champs, but of course, that is only the first (or the second) step in their ultimate journey, which won’t truly begin in earnest until the week before next. Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns doesn’t really make much of a difference.
It’s about what they do in the postseason that will ultimately matter, and the truth is that they haven’t done anything worth celebrating in the postseason in four years. in 2016, they reached the AFC Championship game, the only time they’ve done so in a decade, when they reached the Super Bowl back in 2010.
As is always the case, anything short of a Super Bowl will be viewed by the organization is a disappointment, as a failure. I’m sure the players feel the same way. After all, that is one of the biggest reasons that they play the game, other than to get paid.