At the moment, after five wins in seven games, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves among the 8 teams making the playoffs in the AFC. Surprised? They are too, even after beating the Cleveland Browns 27-11, getting another mistake-free performance from Ben Roethilsberger in only his fourth game this season without throwing an interception.
All of a sudden, their Thanksgiving game with the Baltimore Ravens takes on a much bigger significance than anyone thought it would a few weeks ago, when the Steelers were beaten by 24 points against the New England Patriots, falling to 2-6 in a nightmarish season.
Ben Roethilsberger is now 16-1 in his career against the Cleveland Browns, tied for the best mark by any QB against a single opponent along with Roger Staubach, who had similar success against the New York Giants back when he played for the Dallas Cowboys. Roethlisberger was 22-of-34 for 217 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with Antonio Brown in the first half on a 41-yard throw and later with Emmanuel Sanders in the third quarter on a short throw to give the Steelers an untouchable 17 point lead.
The Browns saw Brandon Weeden decimate another game for them, completing 13-of-30, throwing yet another interception. He came on for Jason Campbell who last less than three quarters before suffering a concussion, leading the home fans to boo the incoming Weeden. Both of them mostly focused on Josh Gordon with a huge 14 catches, 237 yards game. That was the only good thing the Browns showed as they lost for the fifth time in six games.
Once the Steelers held the 20-3 lead, they simply ran the clock and didn’t work too hard at extending their lead. After starting the season 0-4 and being labeled as the worst team in the NFL except for the Jaguars, it’s a pretty good feeling to being in the headlines for the right reasons once more after a very long time.
The key? According to the Steelers, aside from the fixes in the offensive line and the return of Le’Veon Bell to actually create a running game that’s helped Ben Roethlisberger escape the awful slump he was in, is not thinking too far ahead. When it’s only about the next game, suddenly it’s a lot easier not falling into despair, considering how bad the AFC seems to be beneath the Chiefs, Patriots, Broncos and Colts.
It’s all about focus. This game is over now. That’s all we can control. When we were 0-4, we knew we couldn’t get four straight wins in one week. We had to chip away at it and take it one game at a time. Now we’re 5-6, so we’re just going to keep grinding and grinding.
While the Cleveland Browns are rotating through quarterbacks in yet another rebuilding era, the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly feel confident once again about their defense, running game and Roethlisberger’s health. If they do beat the Ravens on Thanksgiving, creating separation between the tied teams and reaching .500 for the first time this season, then playoffs won’t be a dirty word no one speaks about.