Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Steelers clinch postseason berth after dramatic Week 18, will face Chiefs in wild card round of AFC playoffs

Ben Roethlisberger’s final game will be in the postseason. After a 1-3 start, the Steelers clinched a playoff berth with a 9-7-1 record after the Raiders defeated the Chargers on Sunday night, 35-32. The Raiders clinched their and the Steelers’ playoff spots on Daniel Carlson’s 47-yard field goal as time expired in overtime. The field goal eliminated the Chargers, who forced overtime after trailing by 15 points late in the fourth quarter. 

Pittsburgh’s road to the playoffs was initially opened after the Jaguars upset the Colts earlier on Sunday. The Steelers did their part after rallying from behind to defeat the Ravens in overtime. Pittsburgh clinched a playoff berth after the Chargers and Raiders avoided a tie. 

The Steelers earned the AFC’s seventh seed and will face the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs in the wild card round next Sunday night in Kansas City. The Chiefs defeated Pittsburgh 36-10 back in Week 16, as the Steelers had to win their last two games in order to have a chance at making the playoffs. 

Pittsburgh was able to do just that. In an emotional game, the Steelers defeated the Browns on “Monday Night Football” in what was celebrated as Roethlisberger’s final game at Heinz Field. For an encore, Roethlisberger engineered his 57th career game-winning drive in Baltimore, the site of his NFL regular-season debut way back in Week 2 of the 2004 season. Roethlisberger gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead late in regulation on a touchdown pass to Chase Claypool. His 10-yard completion to Ray-Ray McCloud on a fourth-and-8 play in overtime set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal. 

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“That’s Steelers-Ravens right there,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “I just can’t say enough about the men in that locker room. Their collective will, it was on display throughout. … I’m just appreciative of it, and particularly, some of those young ones. … The growth and development of these young guys throughout this journey, and the negativity that’s usually associated with growth and development did not take away from their efforts. They smiled in the face of it, and I’m appreciative of that. 

“And obviously, I’m appreciative of our quarterback, QB1. He’s been smiling in the face of adversity for 18 years. Even though it’s not surprising, it’s still appreciated.”

This might be the most unlikely of the Steelers’ 33 playoff teams. Pittsburgh was not expected by many to make the playoffs after losing several starting offensive linemen this offseason as well as pass-rusher Bud Dupree in free agency. As Tomlin noted Sunday, many were predicting for him to have his first losing season after the Steelers staggered to a 1-3 start after home losses to Las Vegas and Cincinnati and a road loss in Green Bay. 

“You guys buried us when we were 1-3,” said Tomlin, who will coach in the playoffs for the 10th time in his 15 seasons in Pittsburgh. “We’ve got a lot of warts, but we’re here. That’s been our position since September. I’m just appreciative of that mental fortitude being displayed by those men in that locker room.” 

The Steelers will enter the playoffs with a battle-tested defense that is led by T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tomlin’s team is also equipped with running back Najee Harris, who this season broke both Le’Veon Bell and Franco Harris’ rookie franchise records. The Steelers will also head back to Kansas City with emerging young playmakers in receivers Diontae Johnson, Claypool and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. And while the unit is still a work in progress, the Steelers’ offensive line enters the postseason with some momentum after allowing just one sack of Roethlisberger in Sunday’s win. 

Oh yeah, the Steelers will also have Roethlisberger, who continues to defy the skeptics with his play in the clutch. 

“We just like to stress people out early,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh when asked about the offense’s strong finishes after slow starts. “I think it shows something about this team that you can fight and never give up. You guys have asked me a million times what’s the issue, but it would be nice to figure it out now.” 

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