The Pittsburgh Steelers lost three games in a row, including a couple to teams who have already secured a losing season for themselves, heading into last week’s game, in which they trailed by 17 points after the first possession of the second half.
While they stormed back to score 21 unanswered points, overcoming the largest second-half deficit in the Ben Roethlisberger era, they should have never been in that situation, and the comeback doesn’t really alleviate the concerns that many share about the team heading into the postseason.
At the end of the regular season, however, they have already secured a 12-win campaign, a division title, and, at a minimum, the third seed, with little room to advance their position, for which they would require help they are unlikely to receive. And so, head coach Mike Tomlin is choosing to rest or limit some key starters.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers are viewing this game as meaningless or that it is unimportant that they endeavor to play well, according to third-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, whom, at least as of the time of this writing, has not been told that he won’t be playing.
“It’s definitely necessary” to carry momentum into the postseason, he told reporters on Thursday. “We’re playing the Cleveland Browns, AFC North football, a team that’s fighting to get into the playoffs. They’re just the next people in front of us, so it’s definitely necessary to go out there and prepare like you’re playing a great team, because they’ll come out here and embarrass you if you don’t do that”.
“Our job, offense, defense, special teams, is to prepare as if we’re playing a playoff game, because really, it almost is”, he went on. “If we win, they’re out, and if they win, they’re in. So we’ve got to keep preparing like it’s a high-caliber game, because it is”.
As for the Browns, this is not quite a do-or-die game, though it’s fairly close. A win guarantees them a playoff berth, though their seeding could fall anywhere between the fifth and seventh. Should they lose, however, they would also need the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars, starting Mike Glennon at quarterback.
At a minimum, the Steelers know that they will be playing an opponent that will be giving it their all. That hasn’t always been the case for their season finales, as it’s almost always been against a Browns or Bengals team that already secured a losing, non-playoff season. So there will be a different tone to the affair this year.