EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There was a time when this kind of a win would've drawn some criticism. Fairly or unfairly, it would've been characterized as deficient.
There was a dropped touchdown pass. A dropped interception. Seven penalties. The rushing total again was under 100 yards, and the three tailbacks averaged a meager 2.6 yards per carry. The offense was inefficient in the red zone (0-for-2), the defense allowed the Jets to drive 51 yards in 43 seconds at the end of the first half to answer a Steelers field goal with one of their own, and special teams didn't have a single decent return and stuck the offense at its own 21-yard line once with an illegal block penalty.
But not this time with this victory, which goes in the books as 19-6 over the New York Jets. For all its warts, it was a thing of beauty, a legitimate sign of improvement, a cause for hope.
Why it's a legitimate sign of improvement, why it's a cause for hope can be found in what Mike Tomlin said as part of his answer to a question 48 hours before kickoff about what he thought his team needed to do against the Jets.
"We have to have unwavering belief in the midst of the adversity that happens in every football game. Sometimes when you're 0-4, you're capable of wearing adversity differently. We can't wear it differently. We can't carry bags into the stadium. Regardless of what happens, you recognize there's going to be a little bit of adversity in 60-minute football games."
There sure was a little bit of adversity, more than a little bit even, and for the first time the 2013 Steelers faced it and overcame it. For this group that's still learning about themselves and each other, such a victory is something to build upon.
And this time the adversity started before the coin toss.
Remember, this was a team that had lost its All-Pro center to a friendly fire injury on the first possession of the season and had been having issues with its offensive line non-stop since then. Poor performance that first resulted in a three-man platoon at tackle and then in the benching of the starting left tackle was the headliner and a potential season-long deal-breaker for the offense.
So during warm-ups on the MetLife Stadium rug last Sunday, Levi Brown, a left tackle by trade who had been called a "critical acquisition" whose addition was "needed and valued" by Tomlin five days before kickoff, tears a triceps. He's out of the game, out for the season most likely, but even at that he managed to do it only after the Steelers had submitted their list of inactives for the game due to start in less than an hour. Instead of having seven offensive linemen available for a job that requires a minimum of five at a time, the Steelers only have six.
That's how it started. If there was to be any "here we go again" on this game day, this was the opportunity for it to manifest itself.
Didn't happen. Not only that, but the Steelers were doing a much more consistent job of answering/erasing mistakes by making plays.
It wasn't all textbook, but it was a stretch of enough efficient and productive football to win the game. That alone is sufficient for the Steelers right now. It's enough of an accomplishment for them to have created an advantage on the scoreboard and then protected it with some big plays down the stretch. Style points don't matter in the NFL, and they're especially insignificant for a team still in the early stages of development.
That's where these Steelers are, and it feels proper to refer to them as a team in development on the heels of a victory instead of trying to convince yourself of it after another what-were-they-doing defeat.
The Steelers' development now needs to accelerate, because just because they finally got around to winning a game doesn't mitigate the hole they dug by waiting an extra month to do it. Next on the schedule are the Baltimore Ravens, defending Super Bowl champions and winners of three of the last four of these street fights at Heinz Field, and so there is little time to bathe in the victory over the Jets.
One win in a row doesn't make a streak, but there is no possibility of a streak without that first win. Because there is now that possibility for these Steelers, there is hope. And that's another first for them, too.
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