If you are a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, let the panic button be pushed. After losing to the New York Jets in week four of this NFL season, Pittsburgh finds themselves in last place in the AFC North with a 1-3 record. In reality, they received a gift in the season opener from the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals a game in which the Steelers should have lost so theoretically, they could be winless right now at 0-4.
Losing to the Jets in all intents and purposes ended their playoff hopes for this season. Barring an incredible turnaround, not only is Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s team looking at missing the post-season but more importantly, this could be Tomlin’s first losing season since becoming a head coach for the first time in 2007. Tomlin set a record by becoming the first coach to spend his first 15 seasons not experiencing a losing season. All coaches eventually have a losing season but for Tomlin, it has yet to happen.
Tomlin’s 2022 squad is underachieving and after putting in a monster game in the season opener, all-world T.J. Watt suffered a chest injury and has not yet returned to the field. When not on the field, the Steelers have lost every game they have played without Watt taking the field. It’s hard to imagine one player could make that much of a difference but the proof is in the pudding at least for Pittsburgh’s defense.
Losing to the Jets stings though. This is a team that the Steelers have defeated 20 out of 27 times including two playoff victories. They simply rarely lose to the Green and White. But now they have lost two straight to New York because they dropped a game in New York on December 22, 2019. Pittsburgh won the first nine games of their series with the Jets before finally losing in 1988 and then won the next five after that.
Steelers Nation finally got what they wanted in week four and that was having Mitch Trubisky replaced as the starter by Kenny Pickett, the team’s #1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Pickett’s first-ever pass was intercepted, a long attempt to Dionte Johnson but that pick was more on Johnson as the ball hit him in his hands. Soon after though Pickett scored a touchdown calling his number and running in for a score. Later in the game, he did it again becoming the only quarterback in history to rush for his first two career scores.
The loss to the Jets is on the defense. Since Watt’s departure, the defense has failed to make critical stops and their run defense is porous once again. With a game scheduled against the Buffalo Bills in week 5 on the road, it appears the Steelers have little to no chance to win that game against the red-hot Bills who came from behind to beat the Baltimore Ravens in their last game. If they lose to Buffalo it will be four straight losses, something that has happened to Mike Tomlin just three times since 2007.
In 2009, Tomlin’s team lost five straight games but managed to finish 9-7. In 2013, he lost four straight but the final record was 8-8. Then in 2016, it was another four consecutive losses but still, the team did very well and won 11 while losing five overall and reached the AFC championship game only to lose to their nemesis New England Patriots. Along the way to getting there the Steelers on the last seven games of the regular season and then their first two playoff games.
Now faced with a possible fourth straight loss, the outlook is dim for the Steelers and their fan base. After leaving Buffalo, Pittsburgh will have to host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. In week seven they hit the road again for two straight away from home having to face the revamped Miami Dolphins and the team most belief is the best squad in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles. Following two straight road games, the Steelers get to return to the confines of their own house only to see the New Orleans Saints and then a rematch with the Bengals.
At that point the team will be 10 games in and unless they play much better they will probably lose to the Bills, possibly beat the Bucs but doubtful, lose to Miami and Philadelphia on the road, should be the Saints at home, and you know Joe Burrow is not going to have a repeat performance from week one so I would say Bengals win the rematch. If this all plays out as indicated, Mike Tomlin after 10 games is looking at a record of 3-7 or 2-8. With the NFL now playing a 17-game regular season schedule, a playoff team probably won’t get there with seven or more losses.
If Pittsburgh’s record is 3-7 after 10, to qualify for the postseason they would most likely have to win their final seven games and, as a reach, at least six of the seven to finish 9-8 but that probably won’t get them in. Looking over the final seven games, all you can say is good luck.
After the Cincinnati game, the remaining games are on the road against the Colts, then the Falcons. At home for the Baltimore Ravens, and back to the road for a matchup with Carolina. The Las Vegas Raiders come to Pittsburgh next and the season closes with a game in Baltimore and a finale with Cleveland in Pittsburgh. At best, if the Steelers are 3-7 after 10, I can see them finishing 7-10 in a best-case scenario.
Worst case scenario if they are 3-7 on November 20? They could easily finish the season 4-13. Either way, no matter which scenario plays out as mentioned above, the result will be Mike Tomlin’s worst season in his Pittsburgh Steelers career and his first losing season ever. What began as what looked like a promising season is rapidly falling apart. Players are just not playing to potential and for all the talk Chase Claypool did in the offseason making like he should be considered as one of the league’s best receivers he is far from backing that up.
Dionte Johnson has been a minor disappointment and Najee Harris does not have a strong enough line in front of him to be fully effective. Now that there has been a quarterback chance hopefully rookie George Pickens will get the ball more so the potential that he has can shine through. I can foresee signs in the stands from Steelers fans already that will say “Pink-to-Pick” for a Kenny Pickett to George Pickins combination. That combination did hit on six completions against the Jets for 108 yards keeping in mind the rookie quarterback out of the University of Pittsburgh only played the second half.
What might make Steelers fans more uneasy is the play of the defense. Until T.J. Watt returns, Steelers Nation will be wondering can this team make plays and stops without him. The defense is giving games away right now and as they do the losses will pile up. Soon the hope will fade from wishing for a playoff team and more about hoping their beloved Steelers won’t finish as one of the worst teams in the NFL.