The following is going to come of as a Public Service Announcement, but I felt it needed to be said.
There’s a growing group of Steelers fans who still cannot be happy. No matter what, they feel entitled to Madden video game-like lopsided wins and can’t miss perfection on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately, in the real world, that’s now how any of this works.
To give you an idea of how entitled some of these folks are, here are some of the things they are still complaining about heading into Week 15 of the NFL season:
- The Steelers are barely winning games.
- Mike Tomlin has underachieved with talented players.
- Some Steelers draft picks have been busts.
It’s as if this segment of “fans” can’t take a break, pause, and realize what’s right underneath their noses: that the Steelers shouldn’t be a playoff contender at this point.
Rewind to nearly a year ago and the team was on a monumental collapse which saw them lose four of their last six games. The Steelers went from starting the season 2-2-1, to improving to 7-2-1, and then falling to 9-6-1 and out of the top spot in the AFC North as well as miss the postseason.
The offseason storylines focused on how the Steelers were finished. They had gotten “next to nothing” trading Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a third and a fifth-round draft pick. They failed to bring back Le’Veon Bell. They never sign quality free agents or move up in the draft to pick the next “can’t miss” prospect.
However, those storylines slowly faded as Brown was released from the Raiders, then the Patriots, and has barely practiced with an NFL team and played a single game all season, watching from the sidelines. (Two mid-to-late round picks doesn’t seem so bad now for a guy who probably wasn’t going to show up anyway this season and cause distractions, right?)
The rollercoaster ride continued with trading long-time right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Would the Steelers be able to replace him?
And what of finally finding that player in the middle of the defense to take Ryan Shazier’s spot?
Well, the Steelers starting doing some very un-Steeler-like things this season. They signed a sought-after, albeit not nationally known commodity in cornerback Steven Nelson. They took a shot at inside linebacker free agent Mark Barron, formerly of the Rams.
Then they broke the bank and moved up in the draft by ten spots to get their guy, Michigan ILB Devin Bush.
Things looked up, but the team wasn’t done there.
Later trades involved shipping former backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs to Jacksonville, while also doing another “impossible in Pittsburgh” move by sending next year’s first round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The team would also trade for TE Nick Vannett.
Most people still forget that move was mostly necessitated by injuries to safety Sean Davis, a three-year starter on defense and a thin tight end group pushed the front office to acquire Nick Vannett from the Seahawks.
It was a wild ride indeed, but one that felt like the wheels were going to come off following a season-ending injury to franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It was all doom and gloom as a second-year quarterback, one who many had hoped would be the future of the franchise, stepped into Big Ben’s spot.
The Steelers started 0-3. No team could come back from that and almost no other team has. The season was over, let’s see what the young guys can do. After all, Pittsburgh still has Brown’s replacement (JuJu Smith-Schuster) and Bell’s replacement (James Conner) on deck.
And then all of that unraveled too, with QB Mason Rudolph joining JuJu and Conner on the bench.
The Steelers record with three games to should’ve been somewhere in the bottom ten. Perhaps even the bottom five.
But the Mike Tomlin-led team sits in the final Wild Card playoff spot with an 8-5 record and yet another season where the head coach won’t having a losing campaign, his 13th overall, something only accomplished by two other head coaches in NFL history: Don Shula and Marty Schottenheimer.
Are we still unhappy?
This rollercoaster ride has been something else this season with injuries and close losses to three of the league’s top four teams: all in the Steelers first five weeks of play. Somehow, the naysayers can’t say “nay” just yet, but continue to make up excuses and ridicule the team without finding pause to appreciate what’s really going on.
There are franchises who have multiple top round draft picks and luxurious high-priced free agents that still aren’t experiencing the success the Steelers are having this season. Maybe it’s because the team has had 16 straight years without a losing record that has fans spoiled, but I’m here to encourage those critics to finally give it up and try to enjoy what you’re witnessing.
In the face of adversity, a team we all felt was deep with talent is still getting the job done, in a situation where it really should be impossible.
While the wild ride can end at any moment along the potential path to the playoffs, getting to that pinnacle after losing the amount of talent the team had last season (and failing to do the same) should be a testament to the Steelers way: The Standard is The Standard.
We should respect this standard and take pride in what it has brought us over the years, rather than complain about the few things that haven’t come to fruition. Pittsburgh still has a healthy tradition of winning which goes far beyond all but a handful of other NFL franchises. And it appears that tradition will continue beyond Ben Roethlisberger’s years as well, evidenced by the job that Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff has done.
I ask that those "fans" either enjoy it or get off of the ride. Winning is never guaranteed and the ride won’t always end up at the same destination in seasons to come. Whether it's bumpy or smooth, it's been fun and all the more we could have dreamed for given the circumstances.