Given their bottom-tier 2-6 record, many are counting the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoff picture and rightfully so. The conversations surrounding the outcome of this season seemingly focus more on the team’s potentially high draft position than any sort of turnaround. However, this is not the mentality that the team’s locker room is carrying, especially not top receiver Diontae Johnson. In a Wednesday press conference on Steelers.com, Johnson ensured that he is all but ready to give up on the season.
“I believe we still got a chance,” Johnson said when asked about the team’s mindset. “We can make it to the playoffs and the season isn’t over. We got nine more games left. I know I’m talking early on the playoffs or whatever, but that’s just me. I like to speak stuff into existence, so I’m gonna continue to do that. The more we win, the more that gives us the urge of just wanting to win more. So I won’t say nothing different, I’m just gonna believe in that and just go with it.”
Johnson is not alone in this sentiment. In fact, safety Terrell Edmunds recently stated that head coach Mike Tomlin is locked in on turning the season around, a message that he is likely reiterating to the team.
Many of the team’s losses can be attributed to lack of production from Johnson and the offense. The team has played two quarterbacks in Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, and Johnson’s production has seen a decline. Indeed, despite leading the team in targets, Johnson’s numbers are relatively pedestrian, and certainly not those of a recently resigned top receiver. Johnson is plenty capable of being a top receiver, and he will have an opportunity to prove himself after a bye week and extended reps with Pickett.
A 2-6 record is uncharted territory for Tomlin and the Steelers. Tomlin only started 2-6 once in the 2013 season, and went onto finish 8-8 and missed the playoffs due to a missed illegal formation call. While Tomlin has a solid resume as far as in-season turnarounds, this may be the year that his streak of no losing seasons comes to an end.
If the goal for this team is to turn things around and try to make the playoffs, the margin of error is very small. According to the New York Times NFL playoff simulator, the Steelers currently have less than a 1% chance to make the playoffs. If the team loses more than one game of their remaining nine, their chances to make it will be no better than 25%, meaning they will likely have to count on other teams in the AFC losing. Simply put, the team has to go 8-1 or 7-2 in their next nine games at the very least to have a realistic chance at pulling off the impossible.
It is hard to imagine any scenario with the Steelers on a slump where Coach Tomlin or anyone on the team publicly waves the white flag. While nothing is impossible, turning this season around will arguably be Tomlin’s toughest task as a head coach to date. For now, the team must take it one game at a time and be prepared to face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, who are in a similarly desperate need for a win.