It’s OK to admit you’re relieved.
The Pittsburgh Steelers surely won’t, as their playoff hopes became mere dreams with their latest loss, a 34-28 defeat to the Miami Dolphins on a snowy Sunday at Heinz Field. Athletes and coaches are trained to move from one task to the next, a practical approach that helps keep them employed.
But anyone outside the organization can see the Steelers’ 5-8 record as a welcome occurrence, euthanizing a season that has been anywhere from downright discouraging (starts of 0-4 and 2-6) to maddeningly uneven (three wins in a row followed by consecutive losses). Although the 2005 Steelers were the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl from the No. 6 seed, sneaking into the playoffs isn’t a good recipe for playing into early February.
So, for a franchise that often points to another Lombardi Trophy as its only goal, their current state is better for business in the near future. No, they probably won’t get a star-level player in the first round of the draft, but their chances for a difference-maker are increased by finishing out of the money.
I wrote in August that the team was in position to have a rebuilding year, or at least as close to one as can be tolerated by the Steelers. Remember, this is a franchise that hasn’t finished worse than 6-10 since 1988. Heck, the team has been outscored in just four of the past 22 seasons.
Nevertheless, the NFL is designed for quick turnarounds. For every consistent New England there are at least two organizations like Kansas City, who fall to the depths only to rise again in short order. The worst the Steelers can do this year is 5-11, but they’re likely to win at least one of their final three games. This won’t be a complete rock-bottom season.
In a way, the Steelers have already gotten some of the benefits of a rebuild while still lingering in nominal postseason contention. Although it looks like Brett Keisel is going to return this Sunday against the Bengals, injuries to him and LaMarr Woodley have allowed Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds to get more playing time.
They’ve responded with varying degrees of success, but now the Steelers know more about these players and can make better offseason evaluations. Perhaps safety Shamarko Thomas and wide receiver Markus Wheaton, both rookies, can see the field more in the final weeks.
It’s about making the best out of a bad situation. The Steelers aren’t in this spot too often, but they might as well take advantage of it while they can.