December 5th, 2005. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just dropped their third straight loss the day before, a 38-31 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals, with their record falling to 7-5 on the season. After a hot 7-2 start, playoff hopes seemed bleak. But Pittsburgh went on a historic run, winning their final four games in convincing fashion, nabbing a Wild Card spot, and becoming the first sixth seed to ever win a Super Bowl.
Keith Butler was the LBs coach that year. He’s using those memories as hope and belief the Steelers can put on a similar show in 2021. Butler spoke with reporters Thursday and explained why he isn’t giving up on the season.
“We all need to get better all the way up to the next four games,” he said in audio provided by the team. “Shoot, how did we win Super Bowl 40, anybody remember that?…we won our last six. Not just four but six. And what happens is we got hot at the right time. So I’m not giving up on at all. I think we still got a chance to do that.”
At the risk of getting into the weeds about specifics, the Steelers did win only their last four, not six, with victories over Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, and Detroit to close out the regular season. They then went on to win four more playoff games, including Super Bowl XL over the Seattle Seahawks.
Obviously, Super Bowl hopes aren’t even in the back of anyone’s mind right now. The Steelers, to quote Jim Mora, just need to win a game and breaking this recent streak, going 1-3-1 over their last five games. That begins this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and their committed run game, even without star RB Derrick Henry.
Butler isn’t guaranteeing this year’s team replicates the success of 16 years ago. But he knows teams can turn things around in a heartbeat.
“We got young guys that are playing for us. They gotta learn to play the game and hopefully we’ll have a chance. We’ll see. I’m not saying we’re going do that. I’m just saying, let’s give ourselves a chance.”
It’s certainly the right spirit to have. Those on the outside may have given up on the season but those on the inside should not and cannot project such a mentality. The path for Pittsburgh to get into the playoffs isn’t impossible. If they go 3-1 the rest of the way, they’re likely to grab a Wild Card spot at 9-6-1. And once you get into the postseason, anything can happen.
But the Steelers’ biggest obstacle to do that is themselves. They must win the battle in the trenches, failing on both sides of the ball. That’s how they revived their ’05 season, beginning with a snowy game against Chicago, highlighted with Jerome Bettis running over Brian Urlacher and the Steelers running for 190 yards that day. That ’05 team is a much different makeup than the ’21 version but a win is a win. And a victory over Tennessee would inspire much-needed hope and make Butler’s statement more believable.