The Pittsburgh Steelers: A Devastating Conclusion to a Hopeful Season

As the Steelers went nearly ¾ of the regular season without a loss, NFL fans around the country filled social media with claims that the black and gold were “overrated” and going to be eliminated in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.

The cries of the masses were supported when the Steelers completely lost it in the ensuing weeks. A loss to the Washington Football Team was thought to have humbled Pittsburgh and served as motivation to defeat fellow playoff contenders in Buffalo and Indianapolis in the coming weeks. There was even a conveniently placed game against a Bengals team without rookie sensation Joe Burrow in between.

Instead of getting back on track, the Steelers flopped in Buffalo and Cincinnati in what were, up until yesterday, their most soulless performances of the season. It was a display that seemed to prove doubters right and prove that the Steelers had nothing to show on the offensive side. Much like last season, the defense was expected to bail out the offense while having almost no margin for error.

After the disastrous Bengals game, the team’s performance wasn’t criticized as much as TikTok dances by JuJu Smith-Schuster were. I was one of many who wasn’t a fan of the pregame ritual, but I was just a little confused why ending those became the focal point of the Steelers’ problems.

Critics and local media continued to turn on the team in ways that Benedict Arnold himself would find heinous, but many still believed that Pittsburgh could dig deep and make the necessary adjustments going forward.

A spirited second half effort against the Colts seemed to show that the Steelers had both heart and a backbone. It was the most complete half of football they had played in weeks, and arguably the most meaningful performance since Pittsburgh’s win against Baltimore during Week 8.

With a chance to secure the number two seed still on the table, Pittsburgh felt satisfied enough to wrap up the regular season with Mason Rudolph at the helm of the offense. Not only that, but defensive staples such as TJ Watt and Cam Heyward got to stay home and rest as well.

Despite notable absences from those key players, Pittsburgh still had a chance to win due to COVID-19 issues within the Browns organization. And even though the Browns won 24-22, it felt like there would be absolutely no reason to worry come the Wild Card Round.

Afterall, if it wasn’t for a missed roughing the passer call on an interception from Rudolph, the Steelers likely would have won the game. With everyone back and rested and ongoing COVID absences for the Browns, it wouldn’t be pretty for Cleveland...or so we thought.

Less than 10 seconds into the game, the first snap of the game sailed over Ben’s in a play that was eerily similar to Super Bowl XLVIII when Peyton Manning watched the snap fly over his head on the first play from scrimmage.

It was the first shot that Pittsburgh fired into its own foot yesterday, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Ben turned it over time and time again, Pittsburgh’s highly touted defense failed to bring down Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry, it was a disaster. Worst of all, that was only the opening quarter.

As they somehow always do, Pittsburgh gave everyone hope in the second half. They were within two scores and had stopped Cleveland on offense multiple times. Momentum was finally on their side after that dreadful and spineless first quarter.

That momentum was shot dead when Mike Tomlin decided that going for it on fourth and one near midfield was the wrong call. Pittsburgh punted both the ball and its chances of fulfilling the comeback dreams that Yinzers everywhere were clinging to.

By the time Pittsburgh converted a two point conversion in the game’s final minutes, it was apparent that the chance at a Super Bowl run was over.

Another ending might come for Ben Roethlisberger himself. A streak from a tear was visible on his face while he sat on the bench observing the end of the game and the ensuing Browns celebration.

Ben likely knew that this was the best shot he had at one more Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, as the loss simmered in the hearts of Steeler fans, they likely knew it too.

Many predicted it and saw the loss coming. Others called the Steelers frauds from the start, but nobody thought that the Browns could roll into Pittsburgh and embarrass the Steelers on national television and right the wrongs of the last two decades in such a dominant fashion.

Potential retirements and expiring contracts face the team come the offseason. For now, however, we should do what Ben did and just sit and think about what could have been.