Let's get to it:
JOHN NOH FROM SAN JOSE, CA: I have been replaying Minkah Fitzpatrick's breakup of Hollywood Brown's near catch along the sideline in the waning moments of the fourth quarter of Sunday's game vs. the Ravens over and over. I cannot believe how amazing a play that was. Not only did he time his hit very well, but he had the wherewithal to punch that ball out. Incredible skill and possibly a game-saving play. Please tell me that the Steelers have all intention of extending Minkah to his well-deserved second contract. I get that it will be expensive, but you get what you pay for.
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin appreciates Minkah Fitzpatrick for all elements of his game, unlike a percentage of fans who believe he's a "disappointment" if he's not among the NFL leaders in interceptions. Fitzpatrick has been asked to make significant contributions to the run defense, and he has responded by leading the team in tackles with 124 through 16 games. Fitzpatrick makes a myriad of contributions beyond being a ball-hawk in the secondary, and his presence gives the Steelers an All-Pro at each level of their defense: Cam Heyward on the line of scrimmage, T.J. Watt at linebacker, and Fitzpatrick in the secondary.
GREGORY CRUM FROM SCOTTSDALE, AZ: In a previous Asked and Answered, you wrote regarding the punting situation, "Harvin would have to lose the job as much as Waitman would have to win it." Harvin was terrible in the Ravens game. Has he done enough yet to lose the job?
ANSWER: I also have written more than once that a big part of the punter's job with the Steelers is being a sure and dependable holder for Chris Boswell. Did you see Pressley Harvin's hold for Boswell on that 36-yard field goal attempt in overtime in Baltimore? Or the holds for Boswell's previous attempts, from 28 and 40 yards? Perfect. All three, and the one in overtime I could clearly see on television that Harvin had the laces of the ball in perfect position – facing the goalpost. And it was cold, raining/snowing and windy in Baltimore, and the K-balls are naturally slick. I'm not saying Harvin hasn't had issues with his punting this season, and I would have a competition between him and Corliss Waitman for the job in 2022 – just like the Steelers did with Boswell the summer after his one bad season – but there hasn't been one issue with a field goal attempt in 2021 because of his holding. That snap-hold-kick process on field goals and extra points is critically important to Coach Mike Tomlin because it directly impacts the scoreboard. On a shanked punt, the defense gets a chance to take the field and get a stop or a takeaway. If the holder messes up, points are not scored.
ERIC BROWN FROM IRONDEQUOIT, NY: With it seeming as though this is going to be Ben Roethlisberger's last year, is it smarter for the Steelers to start/continue to rebuild our offensive and defensive lines , or to look for the next franchise quarterback with our early picks in the 2022 NFL Draft?
ANSWER: It's not the what, but the who. In other words, the best course is to add the best players at areas of need, rather than approach it from the standpoint of the position a guy plays being the most important factor in the pick. Picking a quarterback in the first round just because Ben Roethlisberger retired is foolish.
MARK LECOMPTE FROM MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA: Do the Steelers send a gift to a player or team that helps them make the playoffs? Such as to the Raiders for going for the win in overtime and to placekicker Daniel Carlson for making the kick?
ANSWER: In 1977 the Steelers as a team sent the Houston Oilers briefcases as a team, because in the regular season finale the Oilers defeated the Bengals, 21-16, even though Houston had nothing to play for. The Oilers win gave the Steelers the AFC Central Division title and an automatic berth into the playoffs that season. That's the only time I ever have heard of something like that happening, and I don't believe it's a common practice anymore.
JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: Are any of the Steelers players who are on injured reserve eligible to be activated for the playoffs?
ANSWER: Players currently on the injured reserve list are eligible to be activated under the same rules that existed during the regular season. But looking over the list of guys on IR, the only player I think could be a realistic option to activate would be Kevin Dotson, and only if his ankle injury is healed.
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I was watching the Chargers vs. Raiders game Sunday night (as it impacted our playoff hopes), and it appeared to me that at the end of overtime the Raiders were willing to settle for a tie, thus allowing both teams in that game to advance into the playoffs and knocking out the Steelers. It wasn't until the Chargers called a timeout that it appeared the Raiders had a change of heart, advanced the football a few more yards, and opted for the field goal and trying to win. Did you get this same vibe?
ANSWER: I'm not going to try to speak for those teams' coaches or what was in their hearts, but I find it hard to believe that a guy who has ascended to the position of NFL head coach has it in his DNA to play for a tie. What I do believe is that when Chargers Coach Brandon Staley called that timeout, it allowed the Raiders the time to run the ball into field goal position and attempt a field goal as time expired in overtime. That set up a scenario where Las Vegas either won the game or it ended in a tie. I also believe the NFL should have recognized that as a possibility in terms of the various playoff scenarios, and adjusted the schedule accordingly. As an example, if Steelers-Ravens and Chargers-Raiders kick off at the same time, it makes the possibility of coaches being tempted to play for a tie less possible. I doubt that same mistake in scheduling will be made in the future.
BRAD THOMAS FROM JASPER, IN: After the amazing win over the Ravens, the CBS film crew showed Coach John Harbaugh leaving the field. It appeared he walked off without shaking Coach Mike Tomlin's hand. Do I smell poor sportsmanship? If so, are there any other coaches who refuse to shake our outstanding coach's hand?
ANSWER: That doesn't sound like John Harbaugh to me. He and Mike Tomlin are fierce competitors – two trains, one track – but there is a mutual respect there. Here is what Harbaugh had to say about Tomlin in the week leading up to Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium: "I have just a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Tomlin … it's a great organization, but the culture is his. He's the guy who organizes the building. He organizes the interactions; he puts it all together. He's responsible for it all. And I think his imprint is on that team and has been and will continue to be, so it is a big challenge going against a great coach like that. I admire and respect him, and like him personally. But I would really like to find a way to win a game here. He's gotten a couple here in a row. They have done a great job the last three times we played him, and we need to step up." Sometimes stuff happens at the end of an NFL game, with all of the people on the field and guys trying to get to the locker rooms, etc., and who knows whether CBS even was able to give us a comprehensive and accurate picture of how things were unfolding. These are two guys who want to beat the snot out of each other every time their teams play, but there is none of that kind of pettiness, the not shaking hands after a game, when you lose.