Minkah Fitzpatrick is happy to be equitablly paid, deservedly so, but he’s not letting dollar signs create his motivations. He’s driven by what happened the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field, a lopsided loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Game, an outcome Fitzpatrick called “embarrassing” during a Thursday press conference celebrating his record deal.
Speaking to reporters, Fitzpatrick said that’s what keeps him striving for something more.
“I don’t think the money motivates us,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “But how we conduct ourselves. Last year was not to our standard at all. I know myself, TJ, Cam, all of us were not happy or pleased at all with how the season ended. Especially in the playoff game which was an embarrassment, honestly. Was not our typical selves. That’s what motivates us.”
Pittsburgh fell to the Chiefs 42-21 on Wild Card weekend, extending their playoff winless drought to six straight years, their longest such streak since the late 60s/early 70s when the Immaculate Reception broke the team’s curse. The Steelers’ defense held firm early and produced the first points of the game, T.J. Watt recovering a fumble and racing into the end zone. But the Chiefs caught fire with 21 points over the final six minutes of the second quarter. By early fourth quarter, it was 42-14 and the game was over. As the clock hit zero, Kansas City put up nearly 500 yards of total offense, third most ever against the Steelers in a playoff game. Only losses to Miami in 1984 and San Diego in 1982 were worse.
While the offense deserves more of that blame than the defense, guys like Fitzpatrick will always take those losses hard. Beyond one playoff loss, the Steelers’ defense didn’t play to their standard a year ago, a historically bad run defense that asked Fitzpatrick to make too many open field tackles, and a secondary that didn’t create enough impact plays. Interceptions can be fickle, but even Fitzpatrick’s numbers were down, picking off just two passes, though he still made impact plays in the pass game. Pittsburgh intercepted just 13 passes last year, down from 18 in 2020 and 20 in 2019, a clear trend in the wrong direction.
With a new and/or rookie quarterback and still so many question marks offensively, the Steelers’ defense will need to be the strength of the team this year. That starts with a much-improved run defense but also a secondary that steps up and takes the football away. That’s what will keep Fitzpatrick going. Not a contract.
“The money is a blessing and the money creates opportunity for everybody around us and our families but…I’m trying to hold myself to [a high standard] rather than just saying, ‘oh, I got paid. So now I gotta play well.’ These guys trust me with this amount of money and this amount of responsibility. So now it’s my duty to go out there and play at a high level and show them I deserve this compensation.”