For their regular season finale, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly aren’t lacking in motivation. A team with as much to play for as anyone, they’ve battled back from a 2-6 start to have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs this weekend. They don’t control their own destiny but could punch their ticket into the postseason.
But even if Pittsburgh fails to make the playoffs, even if they catch wind the Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots have taken care of their business, the Steelers still have something to play for.
Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon via the team website (with a link that’s curiously now dead), Najee Harris says the team wants to win to, at the least, continue Mike Tomlin’s non-losing season streak.
“We’re still in a position to not have a losing season for Mike T,” Harris said. “So no matter how the outcome’s going at the end of the game, everywhere else in the NFL about teams losing or whatnot and the scenarios we need to happen for the playoffs, we’re still in a position to play for Mike T and not have make him have a losing season. I think that’s really important for us.”
Two months ago, it seemed guaranteed Tomlin’s non-losing season streak would end. But Pittsburgh has won six of their last eight games including three in a row and have a chance to win their fourth straight Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. If they do, they’ll finish the year 9-8 and Tomlin’s streak will live on. Since becoming the Steelers’ head coach in 2007, he’s never finished below .500, battling to 8-8 in 2013 after an 0-4 start and finishing .500 in 2019 despite losing QB Ben Roethlisberger six quarters into the season. The Steelers are a perfect 7-0 under Tomlin’s tenure when they enter a game with eight losses.
Harris is far from the first player to use the streak as motivation. Linebacker Robert Spillane made a similar comment earlier in the week, noting the players have discussed it amongst themselves.
“I don’t want to be that first team [that finishes with a losing record],” he said. “That’s been talked about, not openly in team meetings, but between the players, nobody wants to be a part of that history.”
For all of Tomlin’s warts and critiques, he’s never lost the locker room and 2022 is more proof of that. This young group has battled as Tomlin’s become the unquestioned face of the franchise, their leader in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. Players play hard for him and Harris, like the Steelers, have enjoyed a second-half turnaround.
“Just for him being our head coach and him really leading us and showing us the way through the adversity,” Harris said of the importance of the win. “That’s the bare minimum we can do for him.”
Harris made it clear the primary motivation and focus is to win this game and make the playoffs, downplaying a question about all the help the team needs outside of their stadium. But even if the Steelers win and don’t get the support required, Tomlin’s streak will continue. Until the next time, he’s on the precipice when we’ll have the same conversation again.