Once you’ve played in the Super Bowl, falling short in subsequent seasons will always be disappointing.

My Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, but the following season we ended up missing the playoffs despite winning the last three games, finishing 9-7 and not losing a single game by more than six points. It’s a letdown because you know you still have the talent in place and the ingredients to find success. But on the flip side, you realize what a blessing it is to get a chance in the first place.

I’ve played with guys who never even came close to making the playoffs.

Playing in the playoffs and really making that push towards a Super Bowl is really what we live for as football players. It’s what we get paid for and, honestly, I know a lot of people that would do it for free. That’s what you dreamed about when you were a little kid, because there’s nothing like playing in the Super Bowl.

It was hard for us, because when you’re in those last few weeks, you want to control your own destiny. You don’t want to have to worry about needing help to get into the playoffs, hoping other teams lose and worrying about whether other teams are going to end up resting players because they have their spot already locked up. It’s hard to not take a peek up at that scoreboard while you’re playing and see what else is going on.

Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers look on from the bench during a loss to the Browns in 2009.

You can kind of see the similarities with the Eagles this year. They still have a lot of their key pieces from their Super Bowl run and win, but they’ve been struggling to keep things consistent. They’ve got a sense of urgency because they know the temperature is getting hotter, especially because they know they have to win out and still get a little bit of help along the way.

They’re still a good team, just like we were still a good team in 2009-10 (we ended up making the Super Bowl that next year). For the Eagles to have been able to beat the Rams last week, that’s impressive, especially on the road. When it comes to Nick Foles, the guy’s just been able to get it done in Philly. The team rallies around him, so we’ll see if he’s able to pull off some of the same magic as last year.

 Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to throw against the Los Angeles Rams. Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win after starter Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL.

That’s the fun and uniqueness of making a playoff push. Teams that control their own destiny, kudos to them for getting it done. And if you’re one of those teams where your season is going to come down to the last weekend, it makes for an exciting ride.

Jordan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles holds up a dog mask received from a fan after the team's big 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Rapid reactions

I think the Chicago Bears are for real. Consistently the defense has been there, led by Khalil Mack who’s been dominant from week one. The guy’s just been putting it down. It’s also just a good story having a team like the Bears who are rich in tradition, especially on the defensive side, return to prominence. It’s great for the sport and game, and it’s testament to coach Matt Nagy.

Head coach Matt Naty of the Chicago Bears talks with Khalil Mack during a 24-17 win over the Packers 24-17.

Things change so much year to year that it’s hard to predict, but a team that’s probably missing the playoffs this year and could make a run next year is Cleveland. It seems like they’re on the verge of getting over the hump and they’ve got plenty of young talent around them. They’ve already won more games this season than they have in the last three years.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns celebrates a touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 15, 2018. The win gave the Browns their sixth win of the season, two more than the total they've won since 2015.

To double down on that, Baker Mayfield has been my favorite of all the rookie quarterbacks. There was so much pressure on him, from being a Heisman winner to being the top pick, to Cleveland having looked for a quarterback for so long. I love what he brings to the table. I love that he’s — I wouldn’t say cocky, but confident. You want a quarterback who has that moxie, because when you’re in the huddle, everybody else builds off that.

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