Steelers humbled but optimistic after 8-8 finish
The Pittsburgh Steelers have seven long months to think about
what exactly happened in 2013.
Are they closer to the team that looked lost and overmatched at
times during a 2-6 start? Or are they closer to the one that went
6-2 over the final eight weeks and came within a shanked field goal
and a botched penalty call in San Diego from making the
The answer is both.
And while coach Mike Tomlin saw progress during one of the
wilder 8-8 seasons in recent memory, the end result was a second
straight 8-8 campaign that left the Steelers on the outside of the
playoffs looking in … yet again.
So forget about the illegal formation penalty that wasn’t called
on San Diego in the final seconds against Kansas City on Sunday
night. Ditto the Chargers’ apparent fumble on a fake punt in
overtime. The way Tomlin looks at it, if his team is relying on a
series of breaks thousands of miles away to get into the
postseason, the only people to blame are the ones wearing black and
”We stepped into 16 stadiums this year with an opportunity to
state our case and we didn’t state a strong enough case,” Tomlin
No, but they did create a compelling one.
An offense that sputtered during an 0-4 start found a rhythm
when coordinator Todd Haley incorporated a ”no huddle” attack
that gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more freedom. Running back
Le’Veon Bell shook off a shaky preseason to set a new team record
for total yards by a rookie. Antonio Brown put together arguably
the greatest season ever by a Pittsburgh wide receiver, catching
110 passes and setting a franchise mark for yards receiving in a
season with 1,499.
A defense that couldn’t sack the quarterback, take the ball away
or tackle for long stretches – including a horrific 55-31 loss to
New England on Nov. 3 that was the worst statistical performance in
Pittsburgh’s 81-year history – recovered somewhat over the final
Safety Troy Polamalu didn’t miss a game and made the Pro Bowl
despite spending most of the season out of position as a linebacker
in passing situations. Jason Worilds emerged as a difference maker,
playing so well at left outside linebacker when LaMarr Woodley went
down with a calf injury that the Steelers took the unusual step of
moving Woodley to the right side during his brief return.
The result, however, was nothing more than window dressing of
sorts for a team that doesn’t use moral victories as the standard
for success. Pittsburgh will miss the postseason in consecutive
years for the first time this millennium. As encouraging as parts
of 2013 were, it didn’t represent a step forward.
”I don’t think anybody’s goal in this locker room was to go 8-8
and be sitting at home during the first week in January like we’ll
be doing this year,” tight end Heath Miller said. ”So, in that
regard, it certainly was an underachievement.”
One that will lead to more than a little soul searching as the
core that helped the Steelers to three Super Bowl berths since 2005
continues to give way to a youth movement designed to help
Pittsburgh keep up with Cincinnati in the new-look AFC North.
Safety Ryan Clark will be a free agent. So will defensive end
Brett Keisel. Both are in their mid-30s. Both say they want to play
in 2014. Both will likely have to do it elsewhere next year if they
end up playing at all.
Woodley, who hasn’t played a full season since 2010, suddenly
looks expendable. Cornerback Ike Taylor could fall into the same
category unless he agrees to help the salary cap-strapped club by
reworking a deal that currently counts nearly $12 million against
the cap next year.
Offensively, the Steelers need to find a No. 2 receiver with
Emmanuel Sanders all but out the door as a free agent. Then there’s
Roethlisberger’s contract status. Pittsburgh typically reworks the
contracts of its quarterback when there are two years remaining on
the current deal.
Roethlisberger’s base salary for 2014 is $12.1 million, a
pittance by NFL standards for a multiple Super Bowl-winning
quarterback. Despite reports at midseason he was unhappy,
Roethlisberger ended up putting together one of the finest seasons
of his 10-year career. He played all 16 games for just the second
time and reached a detente of sorts with Haley.
”I feel like we are a team on the rise,” Roethlisberger
Even if the ascent isn’t as rapid as the Steelers are used
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org