The Steelers were playing for more than a chance at the playoffs during Sunday's regular season finale against Cleveland. While keeping their playoff hopes alive was the primary objective, Pittsburgh was also motivated to avoid making unwanted history.
"We don't wanna be the first team [to finish below .500]," defensive back Arthur Maulet told reporters prior to Sunday's game, via ESPN.
Maulet was alluding to Mike Tomlin's remarkable run of non-losing seasons, which reached 16 consecutive ones following Sunday's 28-14 win. It was the ninth victory for a team that won six of its final seven games after a 3-7 start.
"That was just for Mike T.," said running back Najee Harris, whose play down the stretch largely contributed to the Steelers' strong finish. "When we started 2-6, he always said that, 'I'm not going to change the way I'm coaching. I'm not going to blink. I'm going to be the same guy.' He never changed. He never switched up. That's his leadership. For us to come in there and win for him and not have that losing season, I think that was big for us."
Center Mason Cole, who joined the Steelers this past offseason, shared Harris' sentiments.
"He's special. Tomlin's unbelievable," Cole said. "I've played for other coaches, and to be here, to be around this guy, I get it. ... I'm really appreciative of him."
Tomlin's supporters often point to the fact that he has never had a losing season. His detractors say he has been consistently mediocre or slightly better, without enough seasons far above .500, especially over the past dozen years. One thing that can't be argued, however, is Tomlin's unique connection with his players and how that bond has contributed to his remarkable run of consistently.
"Coach Tomlin, he gives us everything — his time, his patience, everything," said safety Terrell Edmunds, via the Tribune-Review. "He's bluntly honest. He's just going out there wanting us to win. He wants to see everyone do the best they can on the field and off the field. So, just playing for a guy like coach Tomlin and being able to keep that tradition going for him, that's just amazing for us."
Tomlin was clearly disappointed in the fact that he would not be preparing for a game this week. But he didn't let that disappointment cloud his perspective on the '22 Steelers, a team that many had left for dead eight games into the season.
"We were an evolving group. And that evolution continued even into today," Tomlin said. "I'm just appreciative of the collective. I'm appreciative of the men, not what they're capable of but what they're willing to do in the face of adversity. … Hopefully, we leanred something. Hopefully, we taught others something in the mindst of our journey."
Along with challenging them to improve on tangible football skills, Tomlin also challenges his players to make intangible growth. An example of this is Tomlin's challenge to Harris to evolve as a team leader heading into his second season. Harris, who was voted by his teammates as a team captain heading into the season, clearly embraced Tomlin's challenge. Harris, who displayed impressive leadership qualities all year, showed it once more after he and his teammates realized that they would not be going to the playoffs.
"I shook Kenny [Pickett's] hand and told him he had a great year," Harris said. "We've gotta do a lot as a team if we want to be where we're at next year and not waiting for other teams to lose to get in."
"We didn't make the playoffs, but we accomplished not having a losing season for Mike T. and just finished really strong."