There were some individual and team statistics posted that will look good in the days to come. The 72.3 completion percentage and four touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger. A 23.2-yard average on six catches and a couple of touchdowns from Sammie Coates. Three more sacks from a defense that had just one a fortnight ago. One-hundred and fifth-four yards from scrimmage by Le'Veon Bell. A 2-for-11 on third downs by a Jets offense that first walked onto the grass Sunday having converted 48 percent on the year.
But if that ends up being the statistical residue from yesterday afternoon's proceedings at Heinz Field, those numbers will fail to paint a true picture of what ended up being a 31-13 victory over the New York Jets. Those numbers are too pretty, and in being pretty they make the case for a highlights film afternoon. And while there are plenty of highlights to be packaged and consumed on all of the media platforms, and while those clips can be edited to create a pretty picture, that word, "pretty," really isn't the correct adjective.
Steady. Competent. Workmanlike. Those are more like it. That's what the Steelers were against the Jets, and that's a compliment, too.
The week began with much uncertainty centered around a Steelers' offensive line that was going to be forced to operate shorthanded having to face off against a Jets defensive front that is one of the best in the NFL. And because 34-3 in Philadelphia remains fresh in everyone's memory, and because 34-3 in Philadelphia was achieved primarily as the result of the Eagles defense controlling the line of scrimmage, there seemed to be an ominous game of connect-the-dots developing.
One year ago, the Steelers had run through the raindrops down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs with a roster that seemingly contained two offensive tackles and a prayer. The offensive tackles were Al Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert. The prayer was Chris Hubbard, and at the time the idea of moving this reserve interior offensive lineman to the perimeter seemed as unfair to him as it would've been to Ben Roethlisberger. It didn't happen a year ago, but it was scheduled to happen at 1 p.m. yesterday once Coach Mike Tomlin used his Tuesday news conference to label Marcus Gilbert "highly questionable" and Ryan Harris "out" for this game against the Jets.
Hubbard turned out to be extremely competent at a position he played some during his college days at Alabama-Birmingham, which was more than half the battle. The rest of the credit is due to the manner in which the others on offense did their jobs, from communicating along the offensive line to handle the Jets' twists, to the eligibles not committed to protection getting open despite often being outnumbered by the defensive backs.
There were similar scenarios elsewhere among the guys wearing the bumblebee stripes, and the outcomes of their situations turned out to be quite similar to Hubbard's. Vince Williams for Ryan Shazier, Jordan Dangerfield for Robert Golden, ultimately Ricardo Mathews for Cam Heyward. The guys filling in handled themselves well enough to be above the line necessary for the standard to remain the standard, and their teammates didn't blink at the prospect of them being put in that position.
The offensive line – because it had to line up against the Jets' strength all afternoon – is the foremost example of yesterday's theme, but playing without Heyward for much of the day and without Shazier for all of it could have neutered the defensive front seven sufficiently to create enough offensive opportunities for running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall to turn the tide in favor of the Jets.
Photos of pregame warmups and locker room prep ahead of the Steelers' Week 5 game against the New York Jets.
But that didn't happen, and the Steelers found solutions to all of their issues, even if sometimes those solutions came in indirect ways, such as Antonio Brown's 51 yards on two punt returns helping the offense compensate for what it may have lacked, and Jordan Berry's 46.3 net average that included zero punt return yards for the Jets doing the same for the defense.
It was that kind of a game for the Steelers, and because of it they find themselves alone atop the AFC North with a 4-1 record, with Baltimore at 3-2 after a loss to Washington and the Bengals at 2-3 after a loss to the Cowboys in Dallas.
They find themselves there, not because of a pretty highlights film performance, but because they turned in a good day's work yesterday. And there's nothing wrong with that.