Steelers: When is it OK to have a losing season?

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 06: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is helped to a medical cart by teammates after being knocked out of the game in the third quarter during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on October 6, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 06: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is helped to a medical cart by teammates after being knocked out of the game in the third quarter during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on October 6, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have one win and four losses. They haven’t had a losing season since 2003. Given the circumstances, should we expect one? And if so, is that ok?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not used to losing. They have not had a losing season since 2003 when they went 6-10. An entire generation of fans doesn’t know what it’s like to lose more Sundays than you win.

They haven’t had two in a row since 98/99 and not three in a row since 69/70/71. They won’t have three in a row, but this illustrates how rare it is for Steelers fans to experience losing. So how do the Steelers cope with losing?

Should we expect to lose?

This is the premise, really. Technically, the Steelers could still make the playoffs. But should we expect them to?

Let’s consider the circumstances. In the span of a year, the Steelers have lost arguably the best wide receiver and the best running back in the NFL. They’ve also lost the team leader, a multiple ProBowl attending, and two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. In case you were wondering, I’m referencing Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger. They’re also in the process of replacing the critical component of their defense, Ryan Shazier.

Furthermore, the Steelers have dealt with injuries this year, most prominently their replacement for Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, has sustained a concussion.

But still, should we expect to lose?


As a player, you should never expect to lose. You can’t win on the field if you can’t win in your mind.

As a fan, it’s a little more nuanced. You should probably not expect to lose because that will ruin the fun of the game. It’s tough to have your hopes dashed most weeks, but you’ll live, and losing makes winning that much better. But objectively, if you’re betting, you can probably understand how the odds are not good.

Should we accept losing?

At the risk of giving another wishy-washy response, this also depends. Obviously, the Steelers should not accept losing. That’s just not something you want a player to have in their head. As fans, we should also have similarly high standards, but we should not be unreasonable about it because we perhaps don’t have the right to be, not being the ones on the field.

It is a psychological necessity for players to sometimes be unreasonable in the outcomes they find acceptable since such unreasonable standards can make the unreasonable manifest on the field. But there’s no magical connection between fans being unreasonable and amazing results.

But still, siding with reasonability, it is probably not reasonable to expect a fan to accept a loss in the sense that we’re all just going to shrug and declare that you win some and you lose some. Just move on with our Sunday, and don’t be grumpy all Monday. It’s part of loving the game, yelling at your TV like an insane person, and you can’t ask a fan to take emotion out of their fandom. You can’t really enjoy winning without the frustration associated with losing.

Should we understand losing?

So if we probably shouldn’t expect to win, and if we probably shouldn’t accept losing, then where does that leave us? I would suggest the best approach as a fan is to understand. As a Steelers fan, perspective is something we are sometimes lacking.

The Rooney’s are legendarily steady, never overreacting or letting changing winds shake them. The Steelers don’t abandon players or coaches or philosophies after a loss like another AFC North team about 3 hours northwest of Pittsburgh, and the results speak for themselves when you compare the two teams. The fanbase does not always follow this example.

Even if it’s not you personally, we all know many Steelers fans who pull their hair out over the Steelers, not chasing down flashy free agents or making considerable trades in the offseason. We all know the fans who lament how we’re not good at drafting anymore, despite finding the previously mentioned top RB in the 2nd round and the top WR in the 6th round, despite having one of them, if not the, best line units on both sides of the ball. The Steelers could pick wideouts from a hat and manage to end up with a pro bowler.

Oh, and we all know the fan who will declare that Tomlin is on the hot seat if the Steelers don’t make the playoffs, lose two games in a row, don’t win consecutive Super Bowls, or if it snows in October. The other team gets a first down, fire Keith Butler. The Steelers don’t get a first down, fire Randy Fichtner, maybe trade Roethlisberger while we’re at it.

Ultimately, you can do whatever you want. But maybe keep an open mind toward the Rooneys’ example. Want to win, be happy when we do, and frustrated when we don’t, but let’s understand that losing games with a third-string undrafted rookie quarterback is not sufficient to cause for an existential meltdown or to start attacking or expecting dramatic changes. After all, healed injuries are going to account for a pretty dramatic change on their own from the current state of the team.

Steelers hit hard by injury bug in 2019. dark. Next

The Steelers are not a bad team. There are a lot of bright spots. The defense is doing well. Rudolph looks good. Takeaways are up. Boswell is back. It’s not out of the question that the Steelers could make the playoffs. But looking at all the factors, we should be able to show some understanding that this season may be tough.

This shouldn’t be too much to ask, in part because, again, looking at all the factors, we can also come away with an understanding that this hardship is only temporary, as has been the case for any Steelers hardships for about 50 years running now.