Steelers Season is Back from the Dead
Regardless if the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs this season or not, a victory in the final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns (which is a home game for the Black and Gold) would be almost as good as a playoff victory.
Once left for dead when their record was 3-7, many Steelers and football fans everywhere, including myself, were convinced this season would be Mike Tomlin’s first losing season in the 16 seasons he has been head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But here we are with one more game to play and Tomlin has done an amazing job to get his team back to .500 winning five of the last six games. It’s remarkable.
Whether their season ends on January 8 or not, Steelers Nation has much to be excited about for the 2023 season. Rookie quarterback Kenny Picket’s performance against the Baltimore Ravens, a game in which he drove his offense downfield for a game-winning touchdown to make the final score 16-13, cemented the fact that he has arrived and is indeed the Steelers' signal caller for the future.
Picket’s numbers may not be that impressive (15 of 27 for 168 yards and a QBR of 86.7) but his ability to make plays when needed is something that should be focused on instead. Picket threw no interceptions and was sacked just twice, a credit to the once-criticized Steelers’ offensive line. Before this season‘s NFL draft, the word on Pickett was that his hands were too small to be a solid starter in the NFL. WHAT? How ridiculous.
Another name that needs mentioning in the Steelers' victory over Baltimore that kept them alive in the playoff race, is Najee Harris. In all the years I’ve been watching the Steelers (50 in all), I’ve never witnessed a player that played and ran as hard as Harris did on New Year’s Day 2023. Finishing with 111 yards on the ground and another 12 in the air on two receptions, one of which went for the game-winning score, Harris kept his legs moving and his body moving forward on every run he made.
Harris played with all heart and determination not yet seen by any player this season. The Steelers players had indicated before the game they wanted to win this for Mike Tomlin. It almost didn’t happen when Cam Heyward was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after getting in a scrum but being pulled down on top of a Ravens player in a very questionable flag. What would have been a fourth down turned into a first down and led to a Baltimore touchdown.
The Steelers were able to get a field goal to close within four and then came that game-winning drive with several players chipping in including rookie George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Pat Freiermuth. Again, there is much to look forward to already for next season. The Pickett-to-Pickens connection is going to remind Steelers fans of Bradshaw-to-Swann. George Pickens makes beautiful catches, artistic like Lynn Swann used to do.
Along with Najee Harris, the Steelers found a gem in drafting Jaylen Warren, another tough runner and another rookie who ran for 76 yards on a difficult Baltimore defense averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Harris averaged five per run. The defense is playing better especially with T.J. Watt healthy again. If the Steelers do sneak into the post-season, they will be a dangerous team that will play with nothing to lose and everything to gain. That makes for a very dangerous opponent who can take risks because they were not supposed to be there in the first place.
In a final word, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the opportunity to keep Mike Tomlin’s streak of consecutive non-losing seasons alive if they just beat the Browns. That will be 16 straight and should render some votes for Tomlin as Coach of the Year for bringing his squad back from 3-7 to a winning campaign. Tomlin ranks fourth all-time in head coaches who have had 15 or more consecutive non-losing seasons trailing only Tom Landry who is at the top followed by the legendary George Halas, and then Bill Belichick. To finish 9-8 this season would simply be remarkable and put to rest any doubts about Mike Tomlin’s coaching abilities that have plagued him at times in the past. Tomlin is a winner and his track record proves that. In the end, when he hangs up his whistle, he will be the winningest coach in Steelers' history.
At this point, the Rooney family should be completely confident in Mike Tomlin and never doubt his coaching style or ability. He may not be winning multiple Super Bowls, but he gets his teams to win games and that should matter the most. The man should be called “Mr. Cool” because he rarely shows any real anger on the sidelines, not like Bill Cowher used to do when he would get so fired up spit would come flying out of his mouth. Tomlin has a calm nature about him that some fans take the wrong way, but the bottom line is that he is an intelligent, football-smart head coach who knows how to get his teams to rise up when needed most.