Imagine for a second that you have been on the moon for the last twelve months. You are a Steelers fan that has been completely out of touch with anything NFL related since the end of November 2018. When you left, the Pittsburgh Steelers were 7-4 -1, and had a slight lead on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. What transpires in the next calendar year would seem like a far fetched movie, rather than actual events. That old saying that the truth is stranger than fiction certainly applies here. Let’s review the unbelievable next twelve months:
Where do we begin with this month. The Steelers lost four out of six games which would eventually cost them a playoff spot. That only tells part of the story however. Coaching blunders, turnovers, and horrendous penalties made for a roller coaster of a finish. The team choked away a game against a hapless Raiders, then beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. They went toe to toe with one the Saints in New Orleans before an ill timed Ju Ju Smith Schuster fumble cost them the game. These up and down results have become an all too familiar scenario for the Steelers over the years.
And then there was the Antonio Brown. His troubled 2018 season boiled over on the final week of the season. An alleged argument with Ben Roehtlisberger, and a skipped practice led to him being benched for the final game against the Bengals. It would prove to be the end of Brown’s incredible run with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Antonio Brown did everything in his power to get traded away during the offseason, he would eventually get his way. Kevin Colbert sent Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a third and fifth round pick in the 2019 draft. What looked at the like a complete steal for the Raiders, turned out to be Kevin Colbert’s crowning achievement. The fact he got anything at all for what was clearly a deeply troubled player is a minor miracle. Brown went on to shoot his way out of Oakland, and after a brief stint with New England is now out of football completely. It’s a sad ending for one of the best wide outs of all time.
There also was the finality of losing Le’Veon Bell that same month. Bell would sign with the New York Jets on March 13th, ending a long contract dispute in Pittsburgh. The Steelers had lost two All-Pro weapons on offense in the matter of weeks. It was time to come to the realization that the Killer B’s era was over, and there were no Super Bowl trophies to show for it.
The Steelers interest in Devin Bush was undeniable. It was clear the team loved the Michigan linebacker, but were too far back in the draft order to get him. That wouldn’t stop Kevin Colbert however, as he worked the phones relentlessly until he finally found a trade partner in the Denver Broncos. Bush led another successful Steelers draft that also included wide receiver Diontae Johnson and running back Benny Snell.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had plenty of bad months over the past few years, but none of them match this one. It started out with an all too familiar beating at the hands of the New England Patriots on opening night. A 33-3 blowout loss to their arch rivals seemed to be as bad as it gets for the Steelers………it wasn’t. Right in the middle of what would be their second straight loss, Ben Roehtlisberger would go out with an arm injury. We would later learn the Steelers quarterback would be lost for the season after elbow surgery. The team would finish September 1-3, and would have to go on with the untested backup Mason Rudolph as their signal caller. Mike Tomlin’s streak of never having a losing season was in serious jeopardy.
The trade happened in mid-Septemeber, but we only began to realize how important the acquisition was later on. At the time, it appeared insane that the Steelers would part with their first round pick being 0-2 and being without Ben Roehtlisberger. What the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade did however, is put the final piece in the defensive puzzle for this team. It turned a very average defense into a truly elite unit. The Steelers began relying more on its defense to win games rather than their offense. That’s a complete turn around from what this team has been like over the last several years.
November brought us the pinnacle in crazy moments in an era that was filled with them for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you thought the Facebook live incident, the Bengals Playoff melee, the James Harrison saga, the national anthem fiasco, or any of the other countless crazy situations in the last five years were the most outrageous…….you were wrong. The Myles Garret helmet swinging episode had it all. From fights, suspensions, division rivalry, accusations of racism. This was the Holy Grail of Steelers spectacles. Every time you think you’ve seen it all with this team, they find a new way to shock you.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 in December with Devlin Hodges, of all people, as the starting quarterback. The former undrafted free agent has been a breath of fresh air to this struggling offense. This is a player who didn’t even make the team out of training camp. He was only brought back in an emergency after Roehtlisberger was injured. The team is now 8-5, and in the drivers seat for a wild card spot. His play has lifted the entire offense from where it was under Mason Rudolph. It is no where near perfect, but it just might be good enough now to keep this team in its winning ways.
We can’t talk about the 2019 season without mentioning the incredible job that head coach Mike Tomlin has done. The Steelers have been without key players like Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and. James Conner the last few weeks, and yet they continue to win. This season has been Tomlin’s finest performance yet as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure he has won a Super Bowl, and had countless winning seasons under his belt. But how he has kept this team on track despite the countless injuries and distractions really is remarkable. He should be the leading candidate for coach of the year.
At this point we should expect the unexpected when it comes to this team. The past twelve months have been a strange and remarkable ride. What lies next for the Steelers is anyone’s guess. After what we have seen, anything from missing the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl is still in play. One thing is for sure, whatever happens it won’t be boring. That is one thing that can never be associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers.