Who would have thought when the Pittsburgh Steelers were sitting at 11-0 that they would end the year with a loss in the Wildcard Round of the postseason? They were the final unbeaten team, marking the longest winning streak to start a season in franchise history by four games, and it seemed to bode well for a promising season.
A much-needed one, at that, as the Steelers had missed the playoffs in each of the previous two years, and the year before that, following a 13-3 regular season, they were bounced out of the playoffs in their first game, following a bye week, in the Divisional Round in an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As fate would have it, they would have an equally or even more embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns to end the 2020 season, during which they finished 12-4 after losing four of their final five games of the regular season.
“I don’t know that there’s a false confidence to it, because I feel like each game, we worked our tails off to win”, defensive end Cameron Heyward said on the DVE Morning Show last week. “There’s a lot of parity in our league, and you have to come prepared every week. And for the first 11 weeks, we did that. And we won in different ways. It wasn’t like we blew out teams. Sometimes it came down to the last couple drives. We had to play 60 minutes-plus in every game”.
That’s not entirely true, as they did have a couple of blowouts, namely to the Browns, the Jaguars, and the Cincinnati Bengals, all three of which they won by at least 24 points, but they also had several games that went down literally to the final play of the game, on passes thrown into the end zone for the potential game-winning or game-tying score, or a field goal attempt that would tie the game.
“I think, looking at that, it’s been a long season. To start off the way we started was huge, but we’ve got to grow from this”, Heyward, coming off of his 10th season in the NFL now, said about the disappointment of losing five of six games after starting 11-0. “We’ve got to get to a point where we expect more from ourselves”.
It’s hard to know if that is a remark made in frustration in the aftermath of the bitter end of the season or if he really believes that there is a sense within the team that they are not holding themselves up to high enough of an expectation. When talking to the media, they always seem to manage to say the right things, but you can never know what’s in a man’s heart—or isn’t.