PITTSBURGH – The difference between seven wins and eight doesn’t seem like much.
But at this point, the difference between seven and eight wins is a big deal for the Steelers.
“It’s big, 7-9 is just a nasty number (while) 8-8 by our standards is nasty also,” said Steelers linebacker Larry Foote. “But if you want to hang something up on the wall and want to see records, you want 8-8 instead of 7-9.”
When you’re not going to the playoffs, any little victory is a big one.
Of course, the Steelers have had three other chances to get to eight wins and have failed each time, as they have stumbled down the stretch, losing five of their past six after a 6-3 start.
The result is a regular season finale today against the Cleveland Browns (5-10) at Heinz Field in a game in which both teams will be playing for nothing but pride.
“We want to finish strong. I want to finish strong,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “I’m going to go out there and give it my all. I’m not going to quit on this team or this franchise or the fans. They’re going to get everything I’ve got and I think everyone in the locker room feels the same way.”
The Steelers consider any season that ends short of a Super Bowl to be a failure. A season in which they failed to make the postseason, well, that could be grounds for a big makeover.
And on a team with 17 players who are 30 or older, the makeover could include getting rid of a number of veteran stalwarts.
“You know they’re going to start looking at the 30-year-olds,” said the 33-year-old Foote, who is one of a number of key players who will be unrestricted free agents.
“You know they’re going to start thinking about who is part of their plan.”
The Steelers have long prided themselves on their stability, but the reality of today’s NFL says it’s probable there will be some turnover.
“We’ll leave that for the organization to decide on who’s here,” said Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. “Best of luck to them if they’re not here. We’ve got to get better. This is totally unacceptable. Every man has to take it on themselves to get better for next year.”
In the meantime, there’s also the need for the Steelers to erase the bad taste in their mouths from their last meeting with Cleveland.
The Browns forced eight Pittsburgh turnovers – including five fumbles – in a 20-14 win in Cleveland Nov. 25.
“We’re taking it personally because of what happened last time,” said running back Jonathan Dwyer, who lost one of those five fumbles by the team’s running backs.
That game was one of three the Steelers have played in their current swoon without Roethlisberger after he suffered rib and shoulder injuries in a Week 10 win over Kansas City.
Roethlisberger, who had thrown just three interceptions in the Steelers’ first nine games, has thrown four since his return, including one in each of the past two games that has led to game-winning scores in losses to Dallas and Cincinnati.
“I think a lot of it has to do with my play, not playing well down the stretch and fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, just not making it happen,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t play well enough.”
The Browns could say the same thing about most of their season. The Browns are assured of their fourth last-place finish in the AFC North in the past five seasons, and with new ownership in place and team president Mike Holmgren already out the door, it’s likely this also could be the last game for second-year head coach Pat Shurmur.
“I ask the players not to think of anything beyond Sunday” said Shurmur, who is 9-22 in two seasons. “At least to this point they have done a good job of sticking with me on those types of messages.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers placed wide receiver Mike Wallace, offensive tackle Mike Adams and cornerback Curtis Brown on injured reserve. The team signed defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu and wide receiver David Gilreath from their practice squad and claimed defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo off of waivers from Seattle to take their spots on the 53-man roster. ... Second-year player Thaddeus Gibson, signed off the practice squad earlier this week, will start at quarterback for Cleveland. … The Steelers are looking to avoid their first losing season since 2003. … The Steelers have not been swept by the Browns since 1988.