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Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin celebrates defeating the San Diego Chargers in an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in San Diego. The Steelers won 24-20. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin celebrates defeating the San Diego Chargers in an NFL football game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in San Diego. The Steelers won 24-20. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

As the dust settles on the Steelers 2015 season; it’s time to look back and process what transpired over the last 5 months and take it all in.

It’s time to appreciate the fact that this team managed 10 wins in the regular season, clinched a playoff berth on the last day of the season and even won their first playoff game, in miracle fashion, since 2011.

While there were certainly some moments of doubt and less than stellar play, some highly questionable decisions made by Mike Tomlin and two terrible losses to the bitter rival Ravens, this team made a nearly improbable run.

From the very beginning they were without all pro Maurkice Pouncey, arguably the best center in the game.  Who knows what kind of impact he would have had on the rushing attack or pass protection this year, had he played?

Ben Roethlisberger, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, was hurt on three separate occasions, missing 4 games in the regular season and playing in the playoffs against the Broncos with an injured shoulder. Had he been fully healthy this past Sunday, the narrative could be completely different.

LeVeon Bell, the best running back in the league, was hurt in the 6th game of the year and was lost for the season.  There is no doubt that missing one of the most versatile players in football greatly hindered this offense.  While they still managed to put up lots of yards and score points in droves, there were times when the offense stalled and sputtered and the presence of Bell would have provided a spark.  Had he been available for the playoffs, the black and gold would still be playing and would have more than a punchers chance against the defending champion Patriots.

Let’s not forget that Bell’s backup, DeAngelo Williams, who put up a remarkable season after taking over the running back job when Bell went down was also injured and unavailable for both playoff games. Had he played on Sunday, this team would still be alive.

Of course, the loss of Antonio Brown due to his concussion in the first round of the playoffs was highly detrimental to the team against the Broncos. Anytime you lose the best playmaker in the league, you’re going to have an uphill fight and once again, had he played, this team would still be moving on.

The 2015 season may be looked upon now as the ‘what if’ season, what if none of these guys got injured? What if Fitz Touissant doesn’t fumble against the Broncos as the team is driving, in the fourth quarter, with the lead? What if Mike Tomlin had elected to go for the field goal down 3-0 instead trying for the first down?  However, in a year or two, this season may very well be looked back upon as the season that started the dynasty. This could be the season that begins to lead the Steelers back to greatness, back to the big stage and back to their spot at the top of the NFL, hoisting their seventh Lobardi Trophy.

Think about it, they are loaded on offense with young talent, most of which went down with injuries during the season or post season. They should all be back next season and we can only assume and hope they will be fully healthy.  A fully healthy Steeler offense, in the playoffs, would be very daunting for any team in the league to stop.

The defense certainly has their issues, particularly in the secondary, but unlike the past few seasons, the team actually has cap space now. They have money they can spend and while this team is traditionally frugal, it may be time they address their dire need in the defensive backfield via free agency.  Additionally, they can fill that need via the draft and they will also get Senquez Golston back (their 2nd round pick from last season, who is a corner, who was on IR all this year).

The linebackers are young and Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shzazier made some big leaps this year. Shazier will need to be a bit healthier but the trajectory looks good for both of these young men. Couple that with perennial work horse Lawrence Timmons and up and coming rookie Bud Dupree and this could be the making of the next Steel curtain.

You have to love the defensive line as well. You’ve got Cam Heyward on one side and Stephon Tuitt on the other. Both men were big time playmakers this season and with another year under their belts, they are going to be that much better.

Championship teams build on these types of shortcomings, they use the pain from these early exits and disappointments and they build upon them.  The black and gold feel like they still had a lot of football left to play this season and they came up a few plays short. They can pout about it or they can use it to fuel the fire for next season.

Time will certainly tell just how we look back on this ride we call the 2015 Steeler season, will it be one of ‘what ifs’ or will it be one where we can say, “that’s when it all started?” I’m leaning towards the latter and I bet the men in that locker room are too.

Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com– Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at mike@steelnationassociation.com.

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