The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a six-game winning streak and on paper (or your phone screen) seem like potential AFC champions. But, as Sunday night’s edge-of-disaster victory over the double-digit underdog Green Bay Packers showed, nothing comes easy for Pittsburgh.
Start with the highlights: the Steelers’ Killer Bs (Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and—why not?—kicker Chris Boswell) stepped up every series. A quick rundown:
• Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns; despite two interceptions, he appeared as in control of the Steelers offense as he has in years;
• Bell combined 95 yards on the ground and 88 through the air to make for a key outlet for Roethlisberger;
• Brown flat-out saved the game for Pittsburgh with a stunning toe-drag catch in the game’s waning seconds to help put the Steelers in field goal range, finishing with 169 yards and two touchdowns;
• And Boswell wrapped up the game with a 53-yard field goal, tied for the longest in Heinz Field’s 17-year history.
The Steelers retain the top spot in the AFC, and their game against the New England Patriots in three weeks is setting up to be the key regular-season matchup of the year. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has set expectations as high as humanly possible for the team this year; prior to the game, he told NBC’s Tony Dungy that he believes a Lombardi Trophy is there for the taking.
“Oh, we can win it all,” Tomlin said. “We should win it all. I think that’s my mentality. I think that’s their mentality. But I’m less concerned about that and more concerned about what are the things that we’re going to do along the way to make that happen.”
That’s always the concern with Pittsburgh, whether all their astounding talent can pull in the same direction. They came into this game a heavy favorite over the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay, but couldn’t manage to contain the Packers or replacement quarterback Brett Hundley, who had easily his best game of his career. Hundley threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and three receivers—Davante Adams, Jamaal Williams, and Randall Cobb—each notched at least 58 yards and one touchdown.
Facing anyone but the Steelers, the Packers likely would have won, and could have started entertaining fantasies of a Rodgers return that would put them into the postseason. Now 5-6 with dates against Carolina, Minnesota, and Detroit still ahead, the Packers will likely have to look to 2018.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, sits at 9-2, with only that Patriots game remaining in which they won’t be a heavy favorite. It’s all right there for the Steelers, if they can manage to keep pushing in the right direction.