Morning Joe: Are the Steelers Having Fun Winning, or Are They Just Having Fun?
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing unselfish football. But to them, it's only strange that unselfish football is making headlines.
"I really just think it's funny that it is noteworthy that we are excited because teammates are scoring and having success," head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday.
"I always have fun playing the game," running back James Conner said. "It's fun when you're winning. We've been winning so I've been having fun."
The headline of the Steelers selflessness has been wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. A fourth-year star who's taken a back seat regarding receptions to allow the rest of the team's offense to flow. All while playing during a contract year.
"I think that football is the ultimate team game, and JuJu [Smith-Schuster] is a quality example of that," Tomlin said. "We have a lot of guys that are quality examples of that. We shouldn't let a few outliers globally in terms of guys that are not good team players or the reporting of such events capture the headlines. Largely, we have a lot of guys that are quality team players. They play and play to win. They play together, and when anybody does something well, everyone is pretty excited about it."
Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers in receptions and targets through five games, but only averages 8.4 yards per reception. Nine yards ahead of James Washington (185), the team's top receiver has just 194 yards this season, taking a backseat on the stat line to rookie Chase Claypool.
"People were talking about, 'He only got me two points this week for fantasy.' I was like, 'Well, I mean, I'd rather have two points and be 5-0 than to be 1-4 and to have 25 fantasy points," Smith-Schuster said. "So for me, I like it for myself, so I'm always having fun regardless."
Selflessness is only half the fun in Pittsburgh. This team has talked all summer about how stats aren't important as long as the team is succeeding. No one cares if they're league MVP, just that they have an opportunity to compete for a Lombardi come February.
Which has removed any sense of distaste when it comes to not getting those big plays other are. And instead, has brought this team closer - as it appears - then it has been in years.
Which leaves the question, is this team having fun winning or just having fun?
The Steelers seem to be built on that family mentality the organization has preached throughout their time. When you walk in the building at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the first thing you'll hear is that everyone in the building feels at home.
It was the first thing I was told last fall, and it's met every expectation.
This Sunday, taking on the 5-0 Tennessee Titans could be the first time the Steelers suffer a loss. Could be being the word of focus.
There's finally a sense that Pittsburgh has a challenge. The Titans possess the league's second-best offense, have a man named Derrick Henry who Tomlin could only describe as Bud Dupree running the football, and are just as hungry for that top spot in the AFC as the Steelers. And it's in Nashville.
The Steelers could just as likely pull out a victory as they can fall to a loss. The game can, and should, be close. Meaning for the first time, there might be a sense of pressure that forces the Steelers' hand on both sides of the ball.
You can say what you want about close games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. You can claim there was a minute of "what is happening" in New York. But there was never a strong feeling that the game wasn't in the hands of the Steelers. That can change this weekend.
It'll show us what truly is fun - the game of football or winning. And if it's simply this team loving what they're doing on the field, it'll go a long way in keeping that upper hand, even in times of crisis, against their toughest opponent yet.