Just two months ago, it seemed rather unlikely that the two games in January of 2023 would mean much of anything for the 2022 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sitting at 3-7 following a frustrating 37-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisrue Stadium, the Steelers seemed down and out for the season overall. Instead, the Steelers galvanized under longtime head coach Mike Tomlin and ripped off a 5-1 run to reach 8-8, making the Week 18 matchup against the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium on the North Shore Sunday at 1 p.m. meaningful in couple of ways.
Not only is it a must-win game for the Steelers to potentially get into the AFC playoffs with some help from the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the process, it’s a must-win game for the Steelers to ensure head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t have a losing season, extending his non-losing seasons streak to 16 seasons.
For star outside linebacker and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, the Steelers are “definitely happy” to be playing meaningful football late in the Eason, especially considering the way the season unfolded early on, with Watt getting injured in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, missing the next eight games as the Steelers went 2-6 entering the Week 9 bye.
Appearing on the NFL Rewind on SiriusXM NFL Radio show with Zig Fracassi & Shane Vereen Sunday following the win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football, Watt talked about how happy the Steelers are to have something to play for in Week 18, which is something a handful of teams in the NFL, including the Browns can’t say.
“We’re definitely happy to still be playing a meaningful game next week,” Watt said, according to audio via SiriusXM.com. “But all of that means nothing if we don’t win. So we have to have a quick memory here, watch the film, learn from it, and move on.”
Bouncing all the back from a 3-7 record to reach 8-8 and play a meaningful game is rather remarkable for the Steelers this season, considering all the changes that occurred in the offseason with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and GM Kevin Colbert, the additions in free agency of Mitch Trubisky, Mason Cole, Myles Jack, James Daniels, and the drafting of guys like Kenny Pickett, George Pickens and Connor Heyward.
Playing meaningful games late in the season is nothing out of the ordinary for the Steelers.
In fact, in Tomlin’s 16 years as head coach, the Steelers have played just one game — that’s one, uno, einer — in which they were eliminated from playoff contention, that being the 2012 season finale against, ironically, the Browns.
Prior to that Week 17 matchup on December 30, 2012, the Steelers lost in Week 16 to the Cincinnati Bengals, 13-10, to be eliminated from the playoffs. In that Week 17 matchup, the Steelers beat the Browns 24-10 to reach .500, keeping Tomlin’s streak alive.
So, it’s been more than a decade since the Steelers took to the gridiron with absolutely nothing to play for, as far as the AFC playoffs go. That’s remarkable.
Considering the work the Steelers needed to do just to reach this point in the 2022 season after they were seemingly written off two months ago is an accomplishment in its own right.