Why the Steelers' Mike Tomlin Finally has a Reason to Smile

The leap from surviving to thriving doesn’t appear to be one these Steelers are incapable of making as the games grow in importance and significance.


As the clock was burning down against the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger approached Landry Jones on the Steelers’ sideline and the two shared an exchange only a couple of QBs could truly appreciate.

“He said, ‘Congratulations on your first win as a starter,’” Jones reported. “I said, ‘I appreciate it, man. Thanks for coming in.’”

Jones had played all of seven offensive snaps against the Browns, but the Sunday before he’d been the one who had replaced Roethlisberger late and gone on to lead what turned out to be the winning drive against the Raiders, the one that improved Roethlisberger’s career record as a starter to 109-54-0 and earned Jones nothing more than a pat on the back.

So perhaps Big Ben owed Jones one.

And perhaps that’s the way it’s destined to be for the Steelers this season, who have already overcome a full campaign’s worth of adversity and then some and have somehow still found enough ways to cobble together a 6-4 record through 10 games that has them in the thick of the AFC’s wild card chase.

What transpired against Cleveland improved the Steelers’ record to 4-0 in games in which the starting quarterback starts but doesn’t finish.

That’s as inexplicable a statistic as any, and as appropriate a representation as any of a season that has so far defied description let alone prediction.

What we’re in store for after this weekend’s bye, when the Steelers commence the stretch run on Nov. 29 in Seattle, promises to be as unpredictable as anything that’s preceded it.

But they’ll know this much going in: Everything they intended to achieve this season short of an AFC North Division championship remains well within their reach.

And they have every right to believe they’ll be capable of more in the stretch run and beyond than they’ve been able to muster during what amounted to a 10-week test of their ability to function in survival mode.

“It’ll be a great opportunity for us to get some of these bumps and bruises taken care of and be a team that’s hopefully got an upward trajectory as we come out of it,” head coach Mike Tomlin said of the upcoming bye week.

Le’Veon bell won’t be coming back.

Neither, in all likelihood, will Maurkice Pouncey.

But what if the offense can keep Roethlisberger upright and functioning?

What if a defense that projected initially as off-the-charts awful can get a little more consistent than it has been during what to this juncture has been a surprisingly-impactful resurrection?

And what if the rest of the AFC’s perceived contenders continue taking on water the way Indianapolis and Denver and even Cincinnati have of late?

The leap from surviving to thriving doesn’t appear to be one these Steelers are incapable of making as the games grow in importance and significance.

“Certainly room for improvement,” tight end Heath Miller assessed. “We can be better. We can be more efficient.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best ball yet.”

I don’t think so, either.

And I’m more than a little curious to see what that might look like, and where it might be able to take the Steelers in a season that remains ripe with possibilities.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section