The Steelers way – the approach the team has taken in all areas throughout the years – had come under fire in recent weeks as Pittsburgh struggled through its 2-6 start.
The criticism reached a crescendo following last week’s 55-31 thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots, a game in which the Steelers set dubious franchise records for most points and yards allowed in a game.
It was time to give up on the season; time to play all the young players; time to start playing for a higher draft pick; time for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to go. The list went on and on.
Things got so bad that team president Art Rooney II was forced to issue a statement Sunday, during a 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills, disputing a report that the Steelers will seek to trade quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the season.
“Contrary to erroneous reports, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not explored trading quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and have no plans to do so,” Rooney said on the team’s website.
Both Roethlisberger and his agent also vehemently denied the report, but you get the idea. The barbarians were at the gate.
Against Buffalo, Pittsburgh showed that the Steelers way can still work in today’s NFL.
You can still shut down an opponents’ running game, run the ball well and stomp out an opponents’ will to continue playing.
That was an important lesson not lost on the team’s veterans.
“I think when you’ve been here a while and had success, there’s a level of expectation that you have for winning,” said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. “I think it’s important for guys to understand that a season like this is unacceptable, how it’s been so far. I think it’s important for that. Guys who have only been here for two years have only had an 8-8 season and what we’ve put on paper so far this year. Older guys can get a little frustrated with that and try to do too much. This is something we haven’t faced before.
“Hopefully, we can continue to win and show these guys the Steeler way.”
The victory was just that, one win that pulled the Steelers to 3-6.
But the way that the Steelers won this game, coupling a strong defensive effort with a balanced offensive output, was perhaps its most complete victory this season.
The final score was not indicative of the way the Steelers throttled the Bills. When Pittsburgh went up by two scores late in the third quarter, you had the feeling that the game was over.
It was the kind of reaction, a gut-check moment, if you will, that head coach Mike Tomlin expected.
“It really was,” Tomlin said. “It’s what they’re capable of, and that’s the type of men we have.”
It’s said that how you deal with adversity reveals character. The Steelers have had plenty of adverse moments this season, none more so than last week’s beating against New England.
Now, we’ll see if this team can build on this victory and continue to play hard as struggling Steelers teams have done in the past, or if it was just a momentary flashback against a mediocre opponent.
We’ll find out if the Steelers way can still work in the NFL, or if this team needs to take a good long look at how it conducts business both on and off the field.
“We bounced back, which is good,” said Polamalu. “We still have a lot season left, so we’ll see. One win doesn’t pull us out of the hole.”
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.