As Steelers put together for Browns, seasoned gamers do not make a straightforward journey again to the playoffs

Cameron Heyward thought he was going to have a Super Bowl ring now. In the worst case, an appearance.

When he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 draft round, the former Ohio State defender moved to a team just months away from Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers for the third time the franchise had six seasons played on the largest stage in the NFL.

Almost a decade later, Heyward is a 31-year-old Grizzled veteran with four Pro Bowls and a couple of All-Pro selections, but he still doesn’t have a ring to slip on.

“I’m more at the end than at the beginning,” said Heyward. “I’m not saying I’ll retire next year, but I’m in a situation where I only have a few cracks left. You see when I got here – we went to the playoffs and lost to Denver. You think we’ll at least make the playoffs every time.

“It was a battle and it didn’t go in any direction.”

Heyward is one of the few Steelers players left when the franchise missed the playoffs in the 2012-13 seasons and repeated that two-year absence in the 2018-19. The Steelers have played the postseason five times since losing to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, but have only returned to the AFC championship game once. It’s a run the Steelers would love to end this season as they prepare to face the Cleveland Browns in Sunday’s wildcard round at Heinz Field.

He hasn’t cost Heyward a postseason win since 2015 when the Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in that bizarre finish at Paul Brown Stadium. Heyward was in an injured reserve the next season when the Steelers won two playoff games before losing to the New England Patriots in the conference title game.

“There aren’t many options left for me and I really have to take advantage of them,” he said. “It’s a privilege to make it to the playoffs. Look at the past two seasons. I thought we had really good teams, but we didn’t make it. I will enjoy that. ”

He is not alone. Ben Roethlisberger, who enters the postseason two months before his 39th birthday, is the only Steelers player with Super Bowl experience. Center Maurkice Pouncey was a rookie in 2010 but missed the Super Bowl with an ankle injury.

“I think every player should approach this playoff game like it’s the last playoff game ever,” said Roethlisberger. “We used examples of players and coaches who have been in this league for a long time and have never been in the postseason or Super Bowl.

“I think it’s smart for any player to have that mindset and approach. I know it’s me because nothing is guaranteed in this game. ”

Roethlisberger’s 21 playoff games are 14 more than any other on the 53-man roster. Roethlisberger will include a 13-8 post-season record into Sunday night’s game, and his start will put him past his idol John Elway. The only quarterbacks to start more postseason games are Joe Montana, 23, Brett Favre, 24, Peyton Manning, 27, and Tom Brady, 41.

Roethlisberger could move up to third on the all-time list if he can lead the Steelers to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida.

In the past few weeks, Roethlisberger has gathered the Steelers’ offensive players at least twice to remind them of the stakes that await them.

“There are a lot of people who don’t understand what it’s about,” said Roethlisberger. “I get it. When I was a young man, people tried to explain to me to take advantage of this. They think,“ I’m young, I’ll be back. ”It’s not guaranteed. I think all veterans, while we do ours Finishing a career, knowing that we don’t know what’s next or if there will be another for some guys. ”

The Steelers are almost evenly split in terms of players with and without playoff experience. There are 19 players on the 53-man roster who were about three years ago when the Steelers were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars (45-42) in the wild card game at home. Seven players have playoff experience with other teams, 27 remain without.

“Older players lead the way here,” said all-pro security guard Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will make his playoff debut on Sunday. “You’ve been around for a while. They tell us that details are important. We have to do everything we did. Don’t think about the off-season or getting your body right. You will regret that now (when the time comes) you did not give 110 (%) in the off-season. ”

Cornerback Joe Haden, who joined the NFL in 2010, only has one post-season game – that loss to Jacksonville. His chance of playing in a second playoff game depends on whether the Steelers beat the Browns, his former team. Haden remains on the reserve / Covid-19 list and won’t play on Sunday.

“I know he really wanted to be a part of this game,” said Heyward. “I told him our goal was to get him back for the divisional round. It’s up to us to take care of our business. ”

Broad receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will appear in his second playoff game, said Heyward had sent each Steelers player a table listing the winnings for each playoff round. Each Steelers player could only earn $ 33,000 for entering the wild card round, up to $ 255,000 if they win the Super Bowl ($ 190,000 if they lose).

“I think it’s pretty cool to show what we’re playing for,” said Smith-Schuster. “That amount of money … can go a long way.”

While playoff earnings can be a sweet bonus for a young player on their first four-year contract or for a player on an annual contract, this isn’t the primary motivational factor for veterans.

Security guard David DeCastro, who turns 31 on Monday, is at a similar stage in his career as Heyward and Pouncey. He joined the Steelers in 2012 and didn’t appear until his third season in the postseason.

“I made good money. I had a lot of fun and made great friends. The only thing I have left is the Super Bowl, ”DeCastro said. “The experience of what it would be like for the team, the city, the fans would be amazing to achieve that. I would love to see it, I would really love to be a part of it. ”

Joe Rutter is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Joe by email at or on Twitter.

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