Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief
By some miracle that still is hard to grasp with, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the final week of the 2022 NFL’s regular season with a shot at a playoff berth.
The same Steelers that started 2-6 and lost by a combined 73-16 mark to the two-best teams (Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles) on the schedule needed just three things to go their way this past Sunday in order to secure their third-consecutive postseason berth, and their 10th in 16 seasons under Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
While Pittsburgh took care of the Cleveland Browns, and the Bills dispatched the New England Patriots, the fate of the Steelers’ postseason hopes would depend on whether the New York Jets could travel south and take down the Miami Dolphins.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, those Jets fell 11-6 to a Dolphins squad led by kicker Jason Sanders, who knocked in three field goals, including the go-ahead one with under 30 seconds to play in the game.
Miami secured the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC, and Pittsburgh was left on the outside looking in.
Although a 7-2 finish to the season helped the Steelers finish at 9-8, and subsequently extending Tomlin’s streak of never having a sub-.500 season, that wasn’t enough.
Let’s get real for a second. The Steelers were never a playoff team to begin with. Despite having a schedule in which Pittsburgh never left the Eastern Time Zone, the team couldn’t take advantage of such a unique circumstance.
Of the team’s nine wins, three of them came against teams that qualified for the postseason. And even those three wins were not the sharpest.
A game-winning field goal from Chris Boswell as time expired in overtime helped Pittsburgh secure a 23-20 victory over Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished 12-4, in Week 1.
In that game, Burrow threw four interceptions and fumbled once, yet Pittsburgh needed a missed extra point in regulation and a missed field goal in overtime from Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson to squeak out what should’ve been a double-digit win.
In Week 6, Pittsburgh defeated Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers who, at 8-9, only made the playoffs by winning an extremely weak NFC South by just 2 points. In Week 17, the Steelers narrowly beat a Baltimore Ravens squad that limped its way to a 10-7 finish after a 9-4 start.
Pittsburgh’s six other victories came over the New Orleans Saints (7-10), Indianapolis Colts (4-12-1), Atlanta Falcons (7-10), Carolina Panthers (7-10), Las Vegas Raiders (6-11) and Cleveland Browns (7-10).
Of the team’s nine victories, only the ones over the Saints and Browns were by more than 8 points (or one possession).
The team played with fire by playing close games all season long — with the exception of the losses to the Bills and Eagles — and it cost them.
The Steelers allowed just 17 points to the Patriots in Week 2, yet could only muster 14 of their own. They blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Jets in a Week 4 loss. During Week 7, they came within 6 points of the Dolphins and had multiple attempts to take the lead in the game’s final minutes, but Kenny Pickett threw two interceptions, preventing that from happening.
All three of those teams had some say in the Steelers’ postseason fate come Week 18, but that wouldn’t have been the case had they just defeated one of those teams, let alone two or three.
When a team is counting on other teams to help secure a postseason berth, that team probably didn’t belong in the playoffs to begin with.
Yes, it should always be the goal to win as many games as possible. However, if the Steelers would’ve clinched the AFC’s seventh and final playoff spot, they would’ve been going to Western New York to take on a Bills team that manhandled them from start to finish in Week 5.
There will be no playoff wins in Pittsburgh for the sixth-straight season, but no one can say that the team didn’t have the opportunity right in front of them.
Aside from the defeats at the hands of Buffalo and Philadelphia, only one of Pittsburgh’s losses was by more than 6 points (a 29-17 loss to the Browns in Week 3). Five games that were right there for the taking, but were squandered in one way or another.
There are still positives to take away from this season. The Steelers look like they’ve found a dangerous offensive tandem in Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens. The defense had a league-high-tying 20 interceptions and allowed 17 points or fewer in eight of the final nine contests.
Sure, it would’ve been nice to see the Jets take down the Dolphins and have Pittsburgh sneak its way into the postseason despite all the odds. However, the odds might’ve never been that slim had the Steelers just taken care of business from the beginning.