Climbing all the way back out of a 2-6 and 3-7 hole to get to 8-8 on the season simply won’t matter for the Pittsburgh Steelers if they can’t finish the climb in Week 18.
That climb starts and ends with the Cleveland Browns in a 1 p.m. matchup at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday in an AFC North matchup with the Steelers still in playoff contention. Beat the Browns, get some help from the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills and the Steelers will get into the playoffs.
Lose…and, well, it’s all for naught.
Steelers team captain Cameron Heyward knows where the focus needs to be on Sunday, and it has nothing to do with the playoff picture. Instead, Heyward — speaking with reporters Wednesday from inside the locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side — stated that the focus has to be on controlling what the Steelers can control, which is their performance against the Cleveland Browns and being locked-in for the Week 18 rivalry matchup.
“Stay focused on the task at hand. For us to make it to the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if we don’t win our game. I don’t really need to look around,” Heyward stated to reporters on Wednesday, according to the team’s website. “We need to be locked in on this game because the Cleveland Browns are going to come in here and try and beat us.”
The Browns, sitting at 7-9 on the season, are aiming to play spoiler against the black and gold for the umpteenth time late in the regular season. With nothing to play for but pride, the Browns are hoping to put a stop to the Steelers second-half run, keeping them out of the playoffs with a win on the road in the final week of the season, sending Steelers fans home on a sour note.
Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett already made some waves leading up to Sunday’s matchup, stating to reporters entering Week 18 that he wants to play spoiler for the Steelers, and that the Browns “live for this.”
The Steelers, on the other hand, are 8-8 and are very much alive in the playoff picture. It shouldn’t be hard for the black and gold to be locked in on the Browns in an AFC North matchup with plenty at stake, including a potential spot in the playoffs and extending Mike Tomlin’s non-losing seasons streak to an impressive 16 seasons for his career.
Since the Week 9 bye week, the Steelers haven’t had many issues staying focused on the task at hand, which has been taking things one day at a time, one game at a time, fully preparing for each opponent on a weekly basis and controlling what they can control. That mindset under Tomlin, with urgency, has helped the Steelers climb out of the early season hole to get back to .500 and a shot at the playoffs.
Take care of business on Sunday and the climb is nearly complete. Slip up, and all that work was done for nothing in the end with a losing season and a missed opportunity to reach the playoffs.
We’ll see if the Steelers can be locked in again for another week and take care of business at home to close the regular season.