Since the beginning of the Super Bowl era, the Pittsburgh Steelers had been the only team in the entire league to never go more than three consecutive seasons without a postseason win. After dropping tonight’s game against the Cleveland Browns, they can no longer make that claim, as they have now gone four years without a win in the playoffs.
The Steelers, in fact, only made the single-elimination tournament twice in that span, going 13-3 in 2017 and qualifying for a postseason bye before being eliminated in the Divisional Round, 45-42, by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After narrowly missing qualification in 2018 (9-6-1) and 2019 (8-8 with an injured Ben Roethlisberger), they looked rejuvenated for…most of the 2020 season.
In fact, they started the year 11-0, comfortably the best winning streak to begin a season in franchise history, but they would drop four of their final five regular season games, falling out of the first and second seeds, but ultimately winning the division. After resting starters in the finale against the Cleveland Browns, they came out more than flat against Cleveland tonight.
That’s four years without a playoff victory. The last time they won a game beyond the regular season was in the Divisional Round in 2016, scraping by a pre-Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs, 18-16, before being blown out by the New England Patriots, 36-17, in the AFC Championship game.
Over the past decade since reaching the Super Bowl in 2010, the Steelers under Mike Tomlin have qualified for the postseason in 6 out of 10 seasons. They only won at least one postseason game in two of the six seasons in which they qualified, overall going 3-6 during that time, with wins over the Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, and Cincinnati Bengals.
And now losing to the Cleveland Browns, for the first time in 18 tries in Pittsburgh, and for the first time in the postseason. The loss, as said, ends the longest and only active streak in which any franchise, including all expansion franchises, won at least one postseason game within a four-year span.
Needless to say, the past decade in Pittsburgh has been tremendously disappointing for an organization that holds itself to the standard that any season that does not end in a championship is a failure. And worryingly, there are no optimistic paths toward the Steelers having a better chance to win a title than they had this year.
The first and foremost question that has to be answered is who their quarterback is going to be in 2021. Ben Roethlisberger is under contract for the year, but he could always, of course, consider retirement. Assuming that he does return, he has to play better than he did this year. And that is just one of many questions they face before they return to the field.