Most fanbases are used to an ugly season. One that’s over well before Thanksgiving. One where fans talk about draft picks in late October. In Pittsburgh, those are realizations and conversations that haven’t happened in a decade. Appearing on The Zach Gelb Show Friday, former Steelers’ offensive tackle Max Starks tried to put the team in perspective.
“Calm down a little bit,” Starks said. “It takes transitions and I know you’re not used to it, but this is what people go through and the fact that we’ve went through it for the first time in 18 years, you should be grateful.”
Pittsburgh is on track to have its first losing season since 2003, the year before Ben Roethlisberger’s arrival that opened up a lengthy Super Bowl window that included two Lombardi trophies. Sitting at 1-4, the Steelers will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. Already historic underdogs, Pittsburgh will be without nearly all of its starting secondary. FS Minkah Fitzpatrick along with CBs Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace, and Ahkello Witherspoon were ruled out Friday. The Vegas line now has the team at +9.5, making them easily the biggest home dogs in team history one week after being the biggest road dogs ever.
Mike Tomlin certainly deserves blame for the state of the franchise. Some fans want to go a step further and fire him, criticizing his lack of recent success, failing to win a playoff game since 2016. Starks said firing Tomlin would be a crazy idea.
“First of all, stop drinking that Kool-Aid that you’re drinking and do not follow a spaceship,” Starks said responding to the hypothetical Tomlin should be fired. “You are in the wrong cult right now…you have a rookie quarterback at the helm. You have a rookie ride receiver, you have a second-year tight end, a second-year left tackle, a second-year running back in key positions on this team. Plus you’re without T.J. Watt for the better part of probably I’d say seven weeks out of this season.”
All fair and valid points, though it was Tomlin who put all those players in position. So he’s not absolved from the results. Still, the odds of Tomlin being fired after this season are essentially zero. In a year of change, Tomlin is supposed to be the constant and his recent contract extension reinforces that. It would take another terrible year in 2023 for Art Rooney II to even think about letting Tomlin go. But that doesn’t make 2022 any less painful. Pittsburgh is in danger of dropping its 5th straight game, losing streaks that just don’t happen to the Steelers.
To have any chance of climbing back into contention, they’ll need to win two of their next three games against the Bucs, Dolphins, and Eagles, to put themselves 3-5 at the bye. The post-bye week schedule is a bit more forgiving with four AFC North games to go which would give them a chance at a Wild Card berth. Still, winning two of these next three games feels like climbing Mt. Everest. And right now, the Steelers don’t even have any snow boots.