Don’t look now, but the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-5-1 and right on the verge of earning an AFC playoff spot. A few weeks ago, this was unthinkable to most NFL pundits and fans. Now, Pittsburgh is playing the role of “The Little Engine That Could,” or, as former Steelers great Terry Bradshaw says, the role of 1938 American Horse of the Year winner, Seabiscuit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive with an upset of the Baltimore Ravens
Plenty of pundits had their shovels out in Week 13. They were ready to pour dirt on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season after a presumed loss to AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens.
However, while it wasn’t always pretty, the Steelers 20-19 victory will go down as a W in the final season standings with no other context added.
Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, and the Steelers played their bitter rivals close all game, despite trailing from the second quarter until 1:48 left on the clock. The Pittsburgh defensive unit was the most impressive side of the ball. Led by Watt’s career-high 3.5 sacks, the new Steel Curtain put Lamar Jackson on his back seven times.
Offensively, the Steelers played well, too. Najee Harris had a hard-earned 71 yards on 21 carries. Roethlisberger was an efficient 21-of-31 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The most impressive drive of the day came when the chips were down in the fourth quarter. Behind 13-12, Big Ben led a six-minute, 21-second, 11-play scoring drive. It gave the Steelers a 20-13 lead with 1:48 left in the game.
As impressive as the drive was, it did leave too much time for Jackson. He proceeded to put together a possible game-winning drive of his own, going 60 yards in 1:36.
Luckily for the Steelers, with the Ravens defensive backfield in shambles due to injury, John Harbaugh decided to go for two to win the game. Mark Andrews couldn’t corral Jackson’s pass on the attempt, though and the Steelers won.
Close calls aside, the game propelled the Steelers to 6-5-1 and only one slot out of a playoff berth, which is exactly what former Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw warned the rest of the league about prior to the game.
Terry Bradshaw warns that his former team could still make noise in 2021
Four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he surely has a bit of a bias when it comes to his beloved franchise.
That said, his old team made him look prophetic this weekend when Bradshaw told his FOX NFL Sunday co-hosts that they, and the entire NFL, ought to be wary of the Black and Yellow if they can get themselves down the homestretch.
Bradshaw even compared the teams to one of the biggest underdog stories in sports history:
Remember Seabiscuit? The little horse that couldn’t get it done. Everybody knocked him. He’s too little. He doesn’t have a chance to win. Kind of brings up Pittsburgh. Think about this. They’re writing Ben [Roethlisberger] off. They’re saying Ben’s done. Maybe he is. I’m not going to say that. Mike Tomlin, maybe he doesn’t have the pulse of the team. I’m not gonna say that. They’re 5-5-1. Now, they’ve given up 40 points in their last two losses, but let me take you back to 1989 and the great Steeler head coach Chuck Noll. When his team was also giving up back-to-back 40 point games, but what happened, fellas? They went on to make the playoffs. Just sayin’. You heard it right here.Terry Bradshaw on the Pittsburgh Steelers
During that 1989 season that Bradshaw mentioned, the Steelers were 4-6 with six to play.
Noll’s squad — led by QB Bubby Brister and a defense that included LBs Greg Lloyd and Hardy Nickerson, S Carnell Lake, and Hall of Fame DB Rod Woodson — ripped off five wins, including three consecutive to close the season.
They won a playoff game against the Houston Oilers and eventually fell to John Elway’s Denver Broncos.
Could the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers capture some of that same late-season magic?
The Steelers have a manageable schedule down the stretch
The Pittsburgh Steelers faced a tough first half of the season. The team’s five losses come from the Cincinnati Bengals (twice), Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers, and Los Angeles Chargers.
Those L’s are nothing to be ashamed of — although the Steelers’ Week 10 tie with the now-1-10-1 Detroit Lions is cause for shame.
Pittsburgh’s march to the playoffs starts this Thursday against the reeling Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes are now 5-7 after handing the aforementioned Lions their first win of the season in Week 13.
Week 15 brings Tennessee Titans, who will likely still be without their three best offensive players — Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones — making them significantly worse than their 8-4 record indicates.
Finally, the home stretch brings the Steelers three talented but flawed teams: the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Ravens.
With the two losses to the current No. 7-seeded Bengals, the ’21 Steelers may have to pull an ’89 Steelers and go 4-1 in these last five.
If they do, though, beating those teams to do it, Terry Bradshaw may be right. Football’s version of Seabiscuit could be in the Steel City.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference