If the usual 68,400 Steelers fans had been in attendance at Heinz Field Sunday, my guess is 68,399 of them would’ve exited the stadium saying, “I never saw that coming.”
And the other guy would have been lying.
Given the way the Steelers had played over the last four games — and the first 40 minutes on Sunday — no one could have assumed they’d be able to come back from a late 24-7 deficit to beat the 10-4 Indianapolis Colts.
After all, this was the same team that couldn’t break the 20-point barrier in any of its four previous games. This was the same club that was in a three-game free fall. The same team that had fallen to the likes of sub-.500 competition from Washington and Cincinnati.
How were they suddenly supposed to conjure up the memories from earlier in the year when they managed to win 11 straight games, by usually only spurting out quality play for 30 minutes at a time?
Well, on this day, they only needed about 18 minutes. That’s roughly how much time was left when Ben Roethlisberger hit Diontae Johnson on a 39-yard deep shot to draw within 10 points.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 27, 2020
The comeback was on from there.
“I feel like it was the spark that we needed to get us going,” Johnson said.
The Steelers would punch the ball into the end zone twice more on offense. Meanwhile, the defense forced two punts, an interception and a turnover on downs en route to a 28-24 win.
“I think everybody played cohesively. You look for each group to complement each other,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “The defense gets off the field. The offense gets a quick touchdown. You could just feel like, ‘Okay, let’s just ride this wave a little bit.’ And we just kept battling back.”
We have seen the Steelers do this before in 2020. During Sunday’s frantic comeback, the clock was rewinding to that game in Baltimore earlier this year. And the one in Dallas. And the win over Houston in September. All examples of the Steelers getting down by double digits before halftime, only to flip a switch and storm back to victory.
Which way is the rest of the season going to go?
Well, the 2005 Super Bowl champion Steelers went through something like this. That team started 7-2, only to fall to 7-5 before putting the pieces back together again. It overcame a bunch of injuries and an early bye, and it gutted its way to the franchise’s fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But the 2018 team went the other way. After starting 7-2-1, that club lost three in a row, including horrible losses to bad teams such as the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Yet they stopped the bleeding with the surprise of all surprises. A rare win against the nemesis New England Patriots in Week 15.
Only to blow a lead against the New Orleans Saints the next week and miss the playoffs by half a game.
At least we know the Steelers are in the postseason already. The win over Indianapolis improved the team’s record to 12-3 and secured an AFC North crown. So whatever happens in the regular-season finale this Sunday in Cleveland, this rocky December can’t end as badly as the previous two campaigns which rendered the Steelers on the outside of the postseason bracket.
But this week’s outcome also likely won’t reveal what path the Steelers are on either. Unless they dress their full roster, play 60 full minutes, and show a full complement of the playbook on both sides of the ball.
Something I imagine they won’t do in a game that means much more to Cleveland than it does to them. Not to mention that the Browns are looming as a potential first-round postseason opponent the following week at Heinz Field. That could be true depending on how the playoff scenarios work out independent of Sunday’s result at First Energy Stadium.
Pittsburgh hopes that this 2020 Steelers team is now getting back into its early-season groove. But was the comeback against the Colts a rediscovery? Or a false dawn?
The truth is, it’s probably neither. Beating the Colts wasn’t a magic elixir. It was a sedative to allow us to sleep through the night. Something head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff wouldn’t have done if the Steelers failed to sew up the division.
The Steelers stopped the bleeding. Now maybe the rehab of their offense can start. And maybe it’ll be ready in time for the playoffs.
Categories: Sports | Steelers/NFL | Breakfast With Benz