GLENDALE, Ariz. – That was more like it. Admittedly, it's the outcome that's most important in the NFL, and it was a win, but this time it felt like a win, too.
Winning on the road in the NFL is not a simple matter, and that single ability often separates the good from the great, just as it has distinguished one Steelers team from another.
In 2010, the Steelers team that won the AFC Championship was 7-1 on the road, with a December victory in Baltimore being the critical element to a run through the conference playoffs without ever having to leave Heinz Field. In 2008, they were 6-2 on the road, including another December win in Baltimore that allowed the Steelers to host the Ravens in an AFC Championship Game they would win on the way to a sixth Lombardi Trophy. In 2005, a case can be made that the Steelers' 6-2 record on the road was what allowed them to edge into the postseason as their conference's No. 6 seed in the first place, and then their road warrior mentality kicked into high gear during a postseason in which they defeated the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the AFC Playoffs before going to Detroit to win Super Bowl XL.
There are qualities the Steelers showed in the three recent seasons where they had outstanding road records, but they had yet to display those, at least on a consistent basis, in any of their three road games before their trip here. Stopping the run had been an issue. Protecting the football, big time. In general, just making more mistakes than the other guys.
Last Sunday's 32-20 win over the Cardinals represented a step back to the brand of football that's necessary to win NFL games on the road. It wasn't perfect, but it didn't need to be because the Cardinals are not in the Steelers' class. But before their trip here the Steelers were having problems with these very kinds of opponents.
And it's OK to feel good about beating the Cardinals because of what comes now. New England arrives in Pittsburgh this weekend for a 4:15 p.m. game, and then the following Sunday night the Steelers host the Ravens. Lurking immediately after being showcased by CBS and then NBC, the Steelers will make a trip to Cincinnati, which is where what might be the best defense in the AFC North happens to live.
The Steelers are about to begin a stretch of games that will define their season. What happened last Sunday against the Cardinals doesn't guarantee them wins in those games, but because they were able to leave here with a victory it's easier to feel better about their chances.
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