The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the 2018 and 2019 season as postseason observers, on the outside looking in. In both cases, they were in contention entering the final week of the season, but didn’t get the help they needed (in the case of the latter season, they also didn’t help themselves).
After going 9-6-1 and then 8-8, though, the Steelers came back last year to go 12-4. They not only made it back to the postseason, but reclaimed their place as the champions of the AFC North. Of course, they would lose to their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns, as a wildcard in the opening round. The Baltimore Ravens would also advance further.
“Kings of the North only applies to last year”, Cameron Heyward said earlier this week on a Good Morning Football segment on NFL Network. “We won our division; so be it. [The Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens] went further, but they weren’t Super Bowl champions. At the end of the day, there’s only one team that gets crowned”.
While they posted a .750 winning percentage, the reality is that they started 11-0 before ending on a 1-4 skid and then lost in the opening round of the postseason. Heyward is not shocked by that, given how they finished the year.
“I think we lost a lot of gas as we went down that stretch”, he said. “I think our balance between our offense and defense wasn’t great. We weren’t getting off the field as much as we were earlier in the season, and then our offense couldn’t sustain drives. So you compound that altogether and it wasn’t a great success”.
But he believes they have the pieces to stabilize themselves. They also have young players growing into bigger roles, like Alex Highsmith, Chase Claypool, Kevin Dotson, and company. Factor in free agents and rookies, as well as significant coaching staff changes, as well.
“I still think we have the team to do it, and it’s up to us to prove it”, he said of having success this season and winning the division. “No one’s giving us a chance, everybody’s ready to crown somebody new, but until somebody beats us and is the new division winner, we’ll see. But we’re not just worried about being the division winner. We’re trying to be the Super Bowl champion, and that team hasn’t been crowned yet”.
Granted, they’ve still got a long way to go. They are still searching for their first postseason victory since they reached the AFC Championship game at the end of the 2016 season, and have only three postseason wins altogether since Heyward was drafted in 2011. Two of them came in that 2016 season — the year he as injured. So he’s only experienced one playoff victory firsthand in his decade-long career. He’s hungry to change that as much as anybody.