Handing off to a no-name running back. A fake punt. The Big Play from a secondary known for giving those up. This is how the Steelers were going to win the AFC North.
And that's exactly what they did.
“Remarkable,” Art Rooney II said.
The team president said it all with one word.
There is no telling what is next for these Steelers. The very spark for their offense, Le'Veon Bell, has a hyperextended right knee. Maybe he plays against Baltimore on Saturday night at Heinz Field. Surely the Ravens — all right, definitely the Ravens — will target that injury if Bell plays in his first playoff game.
Everything could end, and soon.
I wouldn't bet on that, though.
I'd bet on Mike Tomlin's team. I'm sold, actually.
My confidence has nothing to do with Ben Roethlisberger, though it has to comfort Steelers Nation knowing their quarterback is playing better than any one of the starting signal callers for other AFC playoff teams.
Sure, Antonio Brown can't be covered by two defensive backs — or maybe an entire secondary — and that gives offensive coordinator Todd Haley a lot of freedom to tinker with designs and calls. But that's not why I like the Steelers to at least make it to Denver for Round 2.
Nope, I like their defense.
Yes, the same defense that I've referred to as the worst for this proud franchise since before Joe Greene was drafted in 1969. That was a fair opinion a month ago. Not now.
Entering 2015, the Steelers have one of the most improved defenses in the NFL.
They've allowed 21 or fewer points in four consecutive games. They've become stout in the red zone, which is where the only differentiating defense is played in this league, and they are — get this — making splash plays.
No, get this: They're making splash plays without Troy Polamalu.
On Sunday night, with his team holding a three-point lead and about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Tomlin told his defense to “get ready,” cornerback Brice McCain said.
A fake punt was coming.
The pass by the punter faked nobody and went nowhere, and the AFC North suddenly was there to be won by the Bengals.
So why wasn't it?
Because the Steelers have grown into something special.
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