Cowher: ‘Complacency’ to Blame for Steelers Missing Playoffs

Former Steelers coach sounds off, players respond

Josh Rowntree
December 30, 2018 - 10:11 pm
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 but stayed on the field to watch the Ravens and Browns game on the big screen at Heinz Field.

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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Before Sunday’s 16-13 Steelers win over Cincinnati, before the Browns fell in Baltimore, ending Pittsburgh’s season, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher took a shot at analyzing why Mike Tomlin and his franchise will be watching the postseason this year. 

“They got too comfortable,” Cowher said on CBS’s NFL Pregame Show. “They got too complacent.”

Complacent is a word that has often been used to summarize Steelers teams under Tomlin. 

A tie against the Browns team in Cleveland in Week One. A putrid performance in Oakland. Blowing a lead in Denver and following that with a blown 16-point home lead to the Chargers. All can be tied to, in multiple ways, complacency. And that was, in many estimations, the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers. 

"I am not getting into that," Tomlin said postgame, when asked if his team underachieved. "We are what our record says it is." 

Perhaps Tomlin was just wanting to live in the moment and not cast a wide shadow on the entire year, but his non-committal answer will likely strike a chord in Pittsburgh’s fanbase, particularly when talking about a team that, just a few weeks ago, was seen by many as a Super Bowl contender.

Other players responded to the question of complacency, and all generally agreed that it was not an issue. Like defensive captain Cam Heyward.

Heyward is right about a lot of things. Playmaking was a big problem for this team, mostly on the defensive end. But everyone, after the game, shared in the feeling of shortcoming. 

"It was a couple of plays, every game, here and there,” guard David DeCastro said. “Losing against teams you — I mean, every game's tough in the NFL, don't get me wrong — but there are teams you should beat in the second half, in that stretch. We found a way to give it away a little bit.

"I don't know where it went, man. 7-2-1 to this is pretty hard. It's a pretty dejected feeling."

And so the image of the end of the Steelers season will be the team sitting on the field, celebrating each successful Browns play they saw on the video board. And then it was all washed away right in front of a crowd that, for much of the day, booed them for another complacent-looking performance against a Bengals team that has been packed in for weeks.

"It makes me mad that, as a leader of this group, we put ourselves in a situation like this, looking for others to do our job,” Heyward said. “It's frustrating and, as a leader of this group, it's unacceptable."

Heyward, often the honest, sensible voice of the locker room, could not even seem to wrap his head around why Pittsburgh was unable to finish important games. 

"It's baffling at some times,” he said. “But as players, as coaches, a staff, as the Steelers, we've got to make those adjustments and go out there and do it. We didn't get it done, this whole season. That's really what's going to stick with me."

The Steelers likely could have made noise in this postseason. The AFC is not overly competitive and Pittsburgh showed against New Orleans that it can play with the best teams in the League. But now, none of that matters.

“Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “I can sit here and say ‘yeah, we would be dangerous in the playoff,’ but we didn’t make it, so it doesn’t matter. But you always like your chances.”

Hear more of what Heyward, DeCastro and Roethlisberger had to say below.