PITTSBURGH — The Steelers did not technically need to win Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals in order to remain in the hunt for an AFC playoff spot.
But it sure felt like it.
Instead of falling all the way to 0-4, the Steelers not only improved to 1-3 by beating the listless Bengals, but thanks to the Cleveland Browns’ win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers sit just one game behind the divisional co-leaders with the Ravens coming to town next week.
A win and the Steelers will be right back in the thick of the divisional race and their ignominious 0-3 start will have been nearly forgotten.
But that’s a step ahead, and that’s not where the focus of this club is after Monday’s 27-3 triumph. They’re just taking things one day at a time, which is the mantra that allowed them to pull out of that three-game slide in the first place.
“Getting one win is big time, especially in the division,” linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We’ll go back, we’ll dissect this film, we’ll see where we can get better and we’ll attack next week.”
“It needs to be a springboard for us as we move forward,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Particularly because it was AFC North football, but we don’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the back.”
But there is an undeniable effect of a team finally securing a win after an opening-week blowout by New England and a pair of close losses.
Tight end Nick Vannett was playing in his first game with the team on Monday, and he said he didn’t see a group that looks like an 0-3 team.
“The team you saw tonight, I don’t think you would have figured out that we were 0-3,” Vannett said.
Vannett made the start on a short week after being traded to the Steelers from the Seattle Seahawks after Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble both were injured in Week 3. It was the second straight week that general manager Kevin Colbert made an aggressive move to replace an injured starter. He traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick before the 49ers game after Sean Davis was hurt in Week 2.
Obviously, the front office believes in this team. Now with a win under their belt, they can believe in themselves a bit more, as well.
“[We’ll] just remember this feeling that we have right now, how good it is,” Vannett said. “Then get right back to work and keep stacking them each week.”
Belief isn’t everything. The Steelers will still have to perform at a high level going forward. If they lose to the Ravens next Sunday, 1-4 won’t look a whole lot better than 0-3 did.
But for now, they’ve replaced those bad feelings with good ones, and the season has been backed off the precipice of hopelessness. That’s a solid accomplishment for one week.