The Pittsburgh Steelers just barely missed the playoffs, but that should not take away from the odds they defied this season.
Some things are just not meant to be, and a 2023 Steelers playoff run appears to be one of them. Pittsburgh needed the stars to align to make the AFC bracket (a scenario that yinzers are all too familiar with), and it almost happened for the second year in a row. Almost.
Not only were the Steelers in a position to beat the Browns, but the Bills were holding their own against the Patriots. All that was left was the Jets and Dolphins—two teams marred by unfortunate quarterback situations.
That matchup went just about as beautifully as one would have expected, with the Dolphins kicking a late field goal to take a 9-6 lead in the final moments. Everything else had gone so well that it almost felt unfair for Pittsburgh to miss the playoffs because of something so ugly, but that was nonetheless the result.
Obviously, that kind of news shatters the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere, but there are still a ton of positives that can be taken away from the weekend when looking solely at where Pittsburgh stands today. Said positives not only impact the team’s current status, but also the state of the franchise in its entirety going forward.
What silver lining do the Steelers have to grasp?
First things first, the note that Pittsburgh finished this season on was as strong as could be regardless of playoff chances. To start 2-6 and finish 9-8 on the back of six wins in seven weeks is an unbelievable feat that will always give fans something to smile about; the fact that it extended head coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of winning seasons serves as a promising bonus.
Speaking of promising, it should be recognized that while the Steelers needing dumb luck to make a playoff appearance is far from great, it was not bad shape for them to be in. I say this because they were in the exact same shape this time last year.
With rookie Kenny Pickett taking over at quarterback earlier this season, Pittsburgh officially embraced the young-man offense. It rides on the backs of Pickett, running back Najee Harris, wide receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, and tight end Pat Freiermuth. The oldest of those players? Johnson is 26; everyone else mentioned is 24 or younger.
Another season-altering piece of misfortune was the lengthy recovery process of star linebacker T.J. Watt, a man who has proven time and time again that he has a direct impact on Pittsburgh’s overall success rate.
For that squad to adapt so quickly, knocking on the door of the postseason just like last year’s experience, with the main difference being the absence of HOF-bound Ben Roethlisberger’s experience and leadership, proves that the Steelers did not need to step back and “rebuild” as we had previously thought was necessary. If that fact doesn’t get the city looking forward to the future, I don’t know what will.
Missing the playoffs hurts, and just barely missing them by something you can’t control hurts a lot more. However, the NFL world has not heard the last of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their consistent ability to make something out of nothing has once again reminded us of their everlasting refusal to back down—that is what should be on every fan’s mind today.