Go back to the 1976 season.
The Steelers won nine games in a row — five by shutout — and rolled into the playoffs looking for their third consecutive Super Bowl championship. They destroyed the Baltimore Colts, 40-14, but lost 1,000-yard rushers Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier to injury. They lost the next week in the AFC championship game to the Oakland Raiders, 24-7, with a team that many believed was potentially the franchise’s best of the 1970s.
Has there been a Steelers playoff win and subsequent celebration that caused more angst since then than the 30-12 win Sunday against the Miami Dolphins?
Blame Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger for poor judgment that could have led to a serious injury for Roethlisberger and the end of the Steelers’ Super Bowl plans.
Blame Joey Porter for a foolish mistake that led to him being arrested Sunday night and put on leave by the Steelers Monday afternoon with his possible firing down the road.
Blame ‘em all for causing a really good team unnecessary distractions at the worst time.
Good news on Roethlisberger: The good news is Ben Roethlisberger said his right foot is just fine. In an email Monday afternoon, he wrote that team doctors insisted he wear a walking boot after the game and keep it on as a precaution before his MRI Monday morning. “The MRI showed I aggravated an old foot fracture but nothing severe. I should be good to go [Sunday in Kansas City against the Chiefs]. Not in boot now.”
Tomlin, Haley and Roethlisberger got lucky.
That Roethlisberger wasn’t badly hurt when Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake rolled up his right leg doesn’t justify Tomlin’s decision to have him in the blowout with less than 6 minutes left. Le’Veon Bell had been removed from the game by that point, rightfully so. Tomlin had sat Roethlisberger, Bell and Antonio Brown the week before in a meaningless game against Cleveland to protect his three stars and keep them healthy. He should have done the same with Roethlisberger and Brown Sunday after the game had been decided. That Tomlin allowed Brown to return a punt instead of call for a fair catch early in the fourth quarter when the Steelers led, 30-6, also was absurd.
Although Tomlin deserves most of the blame for those judgment lapses, give some to Haley and Roethlisberger.
On the play when Wake took down Roethlisberger, Haley called for a pass on third-and-6 from the Miami 46. It’s inexcusable that he put Roethlisberger at risk when he could have called another time-killing handoff to backup running back DeAngelo Williams. That decision detracted from Haley’s otherwise terrific day as the play-caller.
Roethlisberger deserves blame for trying to make a play in that situation. He stepped up in the pocket to avoid the Miami rush and moved to his right, throwing the ball just as Wake was pulling him down. The pass was intercepted. Roethlisberger, as fierce a competitor as there is, has to know better than to allow himself to be so vulnerable when the situation clearly didn’t call for it.
The Porter issue: Then, there is Porter.
That the Steelers put Porter on leave after his arrest outside a South Side club shows they believe the incident was serious, so serious that they are taking him away from their outside linebackers as they prepare for the Chiefs game. That is just about the last thing the team needs for its stretch run.
It’s a bit premature to say Porter should be fired. Let’s see where the legal system goes. But, if nothing else, Porter is guilty of stupidity for getting involved in a skirmish outside of that club. It’s bad enough if a player would have done that. There is no excuse for a coach, who has to be held to a higher standard. No matter what happened, Porter should have walked away. He is the one who had the most to lose, including, perhaps, his job.
It’s nice to think the Steelers are strong enough to overcome the Porter situation. There is every reason to believe they are. They have been a resilient team all season and have reached the NFL’s final eight with a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl LI. Their Big Three of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown are playing their best football. Their defense, led by a couple of old guys — James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons — who have seemed to turn back the clock, has been outstanding. Their young players — Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers on offense and Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave on defense — have stepped up to make major contributions. The team is ultra-confident, not just because of the ease of the Miami win but also because of late-season comebacks from double-digit deficits against Cincinnati and Baltimore.
“I believe in the guys we have here,” Mike Mitchell said. “I see the work. It’s not just talk. I see the work that guys put in every day. That’s where I get my confidence from — in myself and in my teammates.”
It’s safe to say the plan hasn’t changed:
Super Bowl or bust — with or without Porter.