By Jeremy Hritz
The day after a KC kick went wide right, the Pittsburgh beat writers are making certain they don’t let anyone forget that the Steelers dropped their first four games, resulting in their role as observers, not participants in the upcoming postseason. And while this is factual, it diminishes the performance of this Steelers team after such a dismal start.
There is no comparison between the Steelers from the first quarter of the season, to the squad that beat the Browns 20-7 at Heinz Field yesterday. The 0-4 Steelers lacked identity and playmakers, while the 8-4 Steelers found both.
At 0-4, there were fears that this team was several drafts away from being a contender again, as they failed to score points and failed to stop big plays on defense. But slowly, gradually, players written off or already pigeonholed as a certain type of player, destroyed their stereotypes and showed just what they are capable of doing.
Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Cameron Heyward, and Jason Worilds, all had years to remember and are causes for optimism in future seasons. But who would have thought that would have been the case after 0-4?
Bill Cowher always referenced the fine line between winning and losing in the NFL, and this Steelers season was an exemplar for this axiom. And while playing the “what-if” game is a futile exercise, it is eye-opening when considering just how close this Steelers team was. Countless injuries, dropped passes, toes barely out of bounds, and kicks slightly off, all miniscule in scale, yet monumental in their impact on where the Steelers are now positioned at the end of the NFL regular season.
The talk this offseason was that the Steelers were a team in transition, and it proved to be true. Yet despite all of the adversity that this team faced, they battled for the entire season to finish with some respectability at 8-8.
Sure, 8-8 did not result in a playoff berth, and it ultimately means a second year in a row out of the postseason, but the strong finish is indicative of the make up of this team. Had the Steelers been unable to climb out of the early season funk and continued their losing ways, there would be serious questions not only about the talent on the roster, but also about the coaching staff. But they were able to, and several concerns have been allayed.
With that said, it is not the 0-4 start that should define this team, it is their response to that start that should be the focus.
While there are still questions to be answered on the defensive side of the ball, offensively, the Steelers head into the offseason in excellent shape, and the 2014 version of the unit could be the best they have had in a long, long time. And if they can add the right pieces to the puzzle on defense and get development out of some of the younger players like Jarvis Jones, Cortez Allen, and a healthy Sean Spence, a 4-0 start will be more realistic than 0-4.
The agonizing wait for training camp now officially begins.