What team could be prepared for a season that might stretch on for 18 weeks? A season without mini camps, training camps, and very limited practices? Very few teams are equipped to handle the season of 2020 and thrive in it. Players and coaches alike being put on and taken off the dreaded Covid-19 list every week. It isn’t easy to win in the NFL, much less in 2020. But there is one team that has already faced great challenges and succeed. That team proved they will win, no matter what happens, because winning is the standard. The Pittsburgh Steelers were already ready for 2020 when it hit. Why? Just turn the dial back one year and revisit the 2019 Steelers season.
Why the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers were the best team for 2020
Adversity. That word usually isn’t used to describe a whole season, but in 2019 it was. At least for the Steelers. They lost Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. James Conner missed six games. JuJu Smith-Schuster missed four games and was consistently banged up in others. Center Maurkice Pouncey missed three games. Stephon Tuitt, who was having the best season of his career, missed ten. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph also missed time following the Browns game in which Myles Garrett hit him with Rudolph’s own helmet. Rudolph would later come back versus the New York Jets, but suffered another injury that would make him miss the rest of the season. Most of those injuries resulting in that player missing extensive time, or even the whole season in Tuitt’s place.
Looking back at the 2019 Season
So how did the Steelers do it? How did they nearly make the playoffs? How did they prevent a losing season? Look to Mike Tomlin. Tomlin and the stellar defense that came together with the acquisition of All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick are the main and arguably the only reasons that the Steelers did not have a losing season. Why? Why didn’t they simply mail it in when they faced so much? It would have been much easier to quit on the season and enjoy the high draft picks. While no NFL coach will admit to quitting on a season, tanking happens all the time. So, why did the Steelers keep fighting?
Because the standard is the standard. Tomlin preaches that to his team. He believes that message and his players do too. He doesn’t care who they play against on Sundays, or what players he has available to play. His focus is winning on Sunday’s no matter the challenge. This was Tomlin on the injuries the Steelers went through in 2019: “we don’t have backups, we have starters in waiting.” No excuses. Next man up. Mentally tough.
Oh, he cares about getting his best players back. But he won’t let injuries excuse or prevent his team, and himself, from being a competitive and winning team. He will use what he has, and field a team capable of winning.
Last year showed that. The Steelers had arguably the most hurdles of any team in 2019 and still went 8-8. They were mentally toughened in a way that doesn’t happen in practice.
Adversity hit them and they responded.
Now enter the 2020 Season.
Usher in a world of COVID-19. Follow it up with no training camps, no mini-camps, and mostly virtual practices. Throw in an ACL tear to both starting right tackle Zach Banner and budding star inside linebacker Devin Bush. Oh, and no bye week. Or mini bye week after what was supposed to be the marquis matchup of the Thanksgiving slate of games. There is also a possibility that they cannot play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday and might be forced to play them in an added eighteenth week of the regular season.
But the Steelers somehow sit at 10-0. And they have a pretty good shot at going undefeated. Much less making and winning Super Bowl LV.
Why? Why are the Steelers so resilient in the face of all the hurdles they have faced this year? How do they keep winning, even when they don’t play well?
Simply look back to 2019. The Steelers were prepared for 2020. Prepared in a way no other team in the NFL was, because no other team lost so much last year, and still fought so hard.
The Steelers should be favored in every game that they play in the regular season. Maybe the playoffs too. They have shown they have what it takes to win, no matter the circumstances. They won’t be daunted by any challenge that they encounter simply because they’ve already faced those intense challenges. And succeeded.
2020 isn’t new to the Steelers. The challenges may be different, but the pressure and intensity aren’t. Why? Because they dealt with those same issues in 2019.
And if there is any single man who stands out, as the reason the Steelers have the mental fortitude, the will, and the drive to win no matter the challenges, it’s Mike Tomlin. But it isn’t just Tomlin. “We live by the creed, ‘The Standard is the Standard’ but those are just words. The players, the guys, make that reality.” Tomlin wasn’t the sole reason the Steelers were able to tough out the 2019 season. He preached the message. The players carried it out.
Moving forward into 2021
So if the Steelers become the Super Bowl LV champions, don’t be surprised. Yes, they were helped by the return of Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. Certainly, the emergence of Chase Claypool as a star wide receiver has helped. The defense also returned with all but two starters from the elite 2019 group.
But the mental fortitude needed to make and win the ultimate game is already there. The Steelers don’t have to struggle with handling adversity because they have already proven they can. They can even thrive in it. 2019 was the test and the Steelers passed. 2020 is their best chance at their seventh Lombardi. And they have as good of a shot as anyone else in the NFL. All thanks to 2019. The mentality of Mike Tomlin and the Steelers reflect that.
“What is adversity for some, is opportunity for others.”-Mike Tomlin on the 2019 Season.
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