While it may seem inappropriate to mention after what occurred Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, the Steelers still have a chance to make the playoffs.
It is real and not the long-shot one in 2013 when they needed several outcomes to happen and lost on a chip-shot field goal gone awry on the other end of the country.
Their opportunity this time will take place in a tidy area around Lake Erie, separated by 189 miles by car or a three-hour drive. At 1 p.m. kickoffs Sunday, the Steelers will play in Cleveland and the New York Jets will play Buffalo in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Should the Steelers beat the Browns and the Bills beat the Jets, the Steelers will make the playoffs as a wild card and all may be forgiven for the fiasco that occurred in Baltimore the previous week. It’s not far-fetched at all. The Bills already beat the Jets on the road and are 7-8 after defeating Dallas Sunday. They have been competitive nearly all season, including losses by 8 and 7 points to New England. Plus, there is the Rex Ryan factor.
It’s not like the Steelers were in a mood to talk about that after they fumbled away the easy path to the playoffs in Baltimore, but if they make the playoffs, all might be forgiven for that one.
As Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over till it’s over.
“All we can do is tune everybody out and just focus on the Cleveland Browns,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “It [stinks] that we need another team to do our bidding for us. It’s hard to look outside and say, ‘Please do the job for us.’ You never want to go into a situation like that.
“I just hope we get another chance. But that disturbs me to know that as a leader of this team I didn’t get the job done.”
After watching them play in Baltimore, the rest of the AFC might no longer think the Steelers are the one team they do not want to see in the playoffs. But if they do get in, it’s not as though the AFC is loaded with teams that cannot be beaten. Their performance in Baltimore, considering all the circumstances, was among their worst. But they have been a team of spurts, even from one half to the next as they showed in their previous game against Denver.
The Jets are playing well right now and, unlike the Steelers, may rise to the occasion and tuck that playoff berth safety away Sunday against Buffalo. But it’s all the Steelers have at the moment, that and making sure they win in Cleveland, where they were crunched, 31-10, in 2014.
“We’re capable of beating anyone, but we’re also capable of losing to anyone,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
They showed that to be the case again against Baltimore. Through seven games, the Ravens’ only victory came in Heinz Field, albeit without Ben Roethlisberger’s presence. There was no such excuse for that Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Roethlisberger did not play well, reminiscent of some other late-season games in a 2013 loss to Miami and in 2012 December losses to Dallas and Cincinnati. The Steelers failed to make the playoffs each time.
If they do not make it this season, it will be the first time since the end of the previous century that they will have been shut out in three of four seasons. All with one of the best quarterbacks in the league at the helm. It also would be the fourth time under Tomlin (in his nine seasons) they would not have made the playoffs, tying Bill Cowher, who missed four in his 15 seasons.
But they have not missed the playoffs yet. They might still earn one of the wild-card berths Sunday in a simultaneous twinbill along the Lake Erie shore. If they do, it’s a whole new ballgame.
“The biggest thing right now for us as a team, I think it made us a bit humble, but the thing we need to do is get single-focused and get ready for Cleveland,” defensive lineman Steve McLendon said. “We need to focus on Cleveland. That’s our main focus right now.
“Go to Cleveland and get a win. You have to have faith, you have to believe, that’s one thing I do, I believe in my guys, I believe in us. That’s all you have to have.”
That plus an actual win in Cleveland. And some help on the other edge of the lake.