There’s Much at Stake for the Steelers Beyond a Remote Chance of Making The Playoffs

They might be eliminated from postseason contention before they play the Ravens. But there would still be plenty to play for, even if it comes to that on Sunday night in Baltimore.
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Christmas Eve was for Franco.

The rest of the way it’ll be about pride or rivalry or a paycheck or love of the game.

It’ll be about whatever the Steelers can find deep inside, and it’ll be revealing if not rewarding to find out what’s left in that tank.

It’ll be that way because by the time the ball is kicked off on Sunday night in Baltimore the Steelers’ prospects for making the playoffs may well have been downgraded from remote to hopeless.

One of the things the Steelers are hoping will happen, in addition to the Steelers beating the Ravens and then the Browns in the regular-season finale, is the Patriots beating the Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.

The game is in New England and Miami is down to its backup QB.

But that might not matter.

As America’s most renowned and revered Christmas guest, Detective John McClane of the NYPD, might be inclined to observe right about now, the monkey in the wrench is the Patriots look suspiciously like a team that’s all done winning this season, no matter who they’re playing.

A Patriots-Dolphins tie might also keep the Steelers temporarily alive, but even that appears beyond the Pats’ grasp.

Never mind that the Jets would also have to lose to the Seahawks and then beat the Dolphins, or that the Patriots, after beating the Dolphins, would have to lose to the Bills (not factoring ties into the equation at this juncture, for sanity’s sake if nothing else).

Bah, humbug.

With no playoffs to realistically play for, the carrot at the end of the stick will have to come from within.

The good news is the Steelers were up to that task in the wake of Franco’s passing.

Their prospects for making the playoffs weren’t much better then than they are now, but they played with the passion and pride you’d demand if something was actually on the line.

In retrospect, something was, whether it was their desire to win one for Franco, or the exclamation point necessary to properly celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Immaculate Reception,” or the mere presence of the Raiders, which has historically gotten Steelers blood boiling no matter the circumstances.

More such intangible intrigue beckons in Baltimore.

They’re on national TV again, for starters. That’s not necessarily what the Steelers wanted for Christmas, but being flexed into such a position is an acceptable parting gift after having endured the indignity of being flexed out of a scheduled prime-time rematch on Nov. 20 against Cincinnati.

And they’re playing the Ravens, who have become the type of rival in the Mike Tomlin-John Harbaugh era that the Raiders were for the Steelers in the 1970s. These are the same Ravens who won on Dec. 11 in Pittsburgh because they could run the ball even though they were down to their second and eventually their third-string quarterback. Amends need to be made for that if nothing else.

There are also the streaks to maintain, Tomlin’s 15-year run of not having had a losing season and the franchise not having experienced such a thing since 2003.

So yeah, there’s still a great deal to play for, much more than to simply determine what the draft slot will ultimately be in 2023.

The Steelers grasped that, individually and collectively, against the Raiders. The defense was as good as it had to be, the offense was as good as it needed to be when it needed to be, and a memorable victory was achieved.

They won a game for the sake of winning one.

For teams that are doing it right, that’s always reason enough.

A little more of the same would make for a happier new year, with or without the postseason.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section