Back in the real world of football, the Steelers showed Sunday what everyone thought going into this season - the road to the AFC North title rolls through Pittsburgh.
The Steelers dominated the Ravens on Sunday, 26-9, winning in Baltimore for the first time since 2012.
There would be no stubbing of the toe in this one as they had done so many times before and again last weekend in Chicago.
Despite all the turmoil going on around the team, it remained focused and intent on vanquishing the dragon that had been the Baltimore Ravens.
Make no mistake. These are not your father’s Ravens.
The quarterback is a shadow of his former self. The defense, while good, isn’t nearly as imposing.
But they still put on those awful purple uniforms and had shown - at least in their first two games against Cincinnati and Cleveland - the ability to force turnovers.
The Steelers didn’t allow bad things to happen in this one.
They came in with the intent to run the ball. Largely they did, to the tune of 173 yards on 42 carries. Le’Veon Bell, after saying earlier this week that he hadn’t been special, was pretty special in this one.
He carried the ball 35 times. He caught it another four times. All told, he had 186 total yards and two touchdowns.
He might have made $750,000 for this game as part of his franchise tender total of $12.12 million. But he earned every penny of it.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s defense did what it should do against an offensively challenged team like the Ravens. Baltimore came into this game dead last in the NFL in total offense. And the Ravens did nothing to dispell the notion that they are going to get better anytime soon.
Yes, Baltimore finished with 288 yards and Joe Flacco had 235 passing. But it took him 49 attempts with a long gain of 16 yards to do so.
The Steelers did give up a 50-yard run in this game, but outside of that play, the run defense was pretty solid, allowing 82 yards on 15 carries. That means the Ravens’ other 14 carries netted 32 yards.
The Steelers grabbed control of the AFC North, just as was expected. It could have been a two-game lead if not for what happened in Chicago last week.
But everything that happened in Chicago last week also might have galvanized this team. It most certainly seemed to make it circle the wagons, much as the Steelers did after falling to 4-5 last season.
@ When the Steelers made the trade for Vance McDonald, they should have asked that his hands be included in the deal.
Apparently McDonald left those in San Francisco. I still have faith that McDonald is going to make some big plays for this team - running down guys on blocked field goals notwithstanding - but he has to start catching the football, lest B.J. Finney take his job.
Finney got stuck on the field when Ben Roethlisberger hurried the team up to the line of scrimmage at one point and Roethlisberger called a play that called for him to run a pass pattern.
Problem is, Finney had no idea what to do.
Roethlisberger told him to just run to the flat.
In retrospect, Roethlisberger wished he threw him the ball. Instead, he went to a wide-open McDonald, who dropped it.
“I don’t know how many yards he would have gotten,” Roethlisberger said of Finney.
@ The unhappy Antonio Brown narrative put forth by a couple of reporters continues to be put out there.
Yes, Brown was unhappy he didn’t get the ball when he broke free 25 yards behind the Baltimore secondary in the second quarter. But who wouldn’t be upset in that situation, especially after Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Bell?
Brown took his frustration out on a water cooler and was visibly unhappy. But that doesn’t mean he was an issue on the sideline.
“It’s kind of like a kid being excited for Christmas,” said Brown. “You work on it. You’re expecting that play on that day. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.”
The play in question had Brown running a crossing route to set up a pick by tight end Jesse James. Once he cleared James, he reversed field and broke deep.
But Roethlisberger got some pressure and went to a checkdown with Bell.
It was a slow-developing play, but it worked. And you can bet the Steelers will come back to it at some point.
“AB is a playmaker and he is very passionate,” said Roethlisberger. “He feels he has to do everything he can to help us win. We’re fine.”
@ Ryan Shazier is the closest thing I’ve seen to Troy Polamalu in a football uniform since Polamalu retired.
That’s both good and bad.
Like Polamalu, he’s always around the ball and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He’s a playmaker.
But also like Polamalu, he goes so fast that sometimes he runs himself out of plays or misses tackles.
When you have a player like that, you have to take the good with the bad.
@ This Steelers front seven is pretty special. Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave all get after it. And outside linebacker T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have the speed and athleticism to hit a quarterback - hard - while also covering plenty of ground.
The Steelers now have 15 sacks in their first four games. I’m no math whiz, but that puts them on pace for 60 sacks this season.
@ Mike Hilton got both his first career sack and interception in Sunday’s game.
How was your day?
Hilton has a heck of a knack for timing up his blitzes. He even hit the line at full speed a couple of times Sunday. He said it comes not only from film work, but studying the offense when he’s not on the field.
@ So the Patriots have now lost two games at home this season to fall to 2-2 and probably should have lost last week to Houston at home.
Right now, the way everyone is playing in the AFC, Kansas City is probably the clubhouse favorite, but last time I checked, the playoffs don’t start for three more months.
The Steelers haven’t played anything close to their best football yet but are 3-1.
Sure, they could be 4-0. But you’ll take 3-1 every four games. That will get you to 12-4. Go 4-0 in one four-game stretch and you’re looking at 13-3.
There’s a lot of football left to be played. But the way the Pittsburgh defense is playing does give a lot of hope.
It looks like a top-10, if not top-5, unit when all is said and done.
The offense, which had 381 yards and scored 26 points in Baltimore, will come along, as well.