Despite Their Record, The Season is Far From Over for the Steelers
Their playoff aspirations may have been torpedoed by the Ravens. But the head coach has a streak going the players are intent on preserving.
They aren’t officially eliminated from playoff contention yet, but at 5-8 and with five teams positioned between the Steelers and the New England Patriots, currently the No. 7 and final postseason seed in the AFC, that eventual designation seems as inevitable as the coming of Christmas.
So if not the playoffs, what are they still playing for?
Among other things, their head coach.
“If we can’t jell together for each other at least we can do it for him,” nose tackle Montravius Adams offered.
Adams has only been with the Steelers since last November.
But that’s apparently been more than enough time for head coach Mike Tomlin to make a lasting impression on Adams.
“At the end of the day, something that means a lot to me is ‘Coach T’ never had a losing season,” Adams continued. “I just don’t want that to be under my belt.
“I’m sure a lot of guys in the locker room feel this way. We gotta get it right.”
Tomlin’s streak, remarkably, has become a subject of great debate in Steeler Nation in recent seasons.
It’s an NFL record, 15 consecutive non-losing seasons to start a head coaching career.
But it hasn’t translated into the type of playoff success to which they aspire for more than a decade.
The Steelers haven’t played in a Super Bowl since the one that ended the 2010 season.
They haven’t won one since the 2008 campaign.
And their last appearance in an AFC Championship Game was on Jan. 22, 2017 (they lost to the Patriots, 36-17, and have gone 0-3 in the postseason since).
That’s far below the line according to the standard to which the organization adheres.
To Tomlin’s critics, the streak is a poor consolation prize in lieu of legitimate championship contention and additions to the franchise’s Lombardi Trophy collection.
But it absolutely matters to the players.
Adams got around to referencing it unsolicited after initially being asked what was being done about the run defense, which had collapsed in last Sunday’s season-crippling loss to the Ravens.
And tight end Zach Gentry steered the conversation to Tomlin after being asked about the Steelers not having had a losing season since 2003 (four seasons prior to Tomlin’s arrival).
“Certainly, you want to get above .500 and see if we can sneak our way into the playoffs, I mean absolutely,” Gentry said. “I take a lot of pride selfishly in trying to make sure that Mike Tomlin never has a losing season, too.
“I think that’s something that’s a little selfishly important to me, that we continue to keep that streak alive for him and this organization. No matter what we want Ws, but we definitely want to continue that streak.”
A win on Sunday in Charlotte, by the way, would make Tomlin the 17th head coach in NFL history to amass 160 regular-season victories. Tomlin would also match Bill Belichick for having required the fourth-fewest amount of games to get there (254).
Alas, they’re going to have to win at least three times and tie once over the final four games to preserve the streak (8-8-1 would accomplish at least that).
That seems only slightly less unlikely than a 4-0 finish that would potentially allow the Steelers to “sneak” into the playoffs, as Gentry suggested.
But it would matter a great deal to the Steelers.
They care, even if you don’t.
“We all just have a certain level of respect for Coach Tomlin,” Gentry added. “I think it’s a pretty neat run he has going.
“We don’t want to be the group that ends that run.”