GREEN BAY – Maybe they make the playoffs. Maybe they don't. Maybe this 2013 season comes to remembered as one of the dramatic turnarounds in franchise history. Maybe it goes down as just another playoffless season.
Whatever happens and however 2013 comes to be viewed, the Steelers' 38-31 win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field deserves to be recognized as a significant accomplishment, as arguably their most satisfying victory of the season.
Once the bottom seemingly dropped out of this 16-game exercise in the immediate aftermath of that 55-31 spanking by the New England Patriots that made them 2-6 and certainly seemed to cast them down among the dregs of the league while simultaneously signaling the necessity of a complete overhaul, the Steelers have been the equal of every opponent they have faced. They didn't win every game, but they were sufficiently competitive against the Ravens in Baltimore and vs. the Dolphins – playoff contenders both – to leave the stadium after each believing they could have, and maybe should have, won those, too.
That makes them 5-2 since they started getting asked the questions. What's left to play for this season? Have the players quit? Should Mike Tomlin start treating the second half of this regular season as an extension of the 2014 preseason? And if he doesn't, why isn't he? Who among the veterans won't be back? Who among all the players and coaches don't deserve to be brought back?
At the precise time when they were surrounded by the most distractions is when these Steelers narrowed their focus and renewed their commitment to the oldest of coaching clichés – one game at a time. It paid off handsomely, and it was on display at Lambeau Field.
Against the Packers, the Steelers showed considerable grit in many different areas.
Such as answering Packers' scores with scores of their own – two touchdowns and a field goal – on three different possessions.
Such as overcoming yet another display of incompetence by the on-field officials, this time on the occasion of a blocked field goal by Steve McLendon that was recovered by Ryan Clark who then was touched down only to attempt a lateral that was incomplete to William Gay and ultimately batted out of bounds by Ziggy Hood. The correct call would have been to give the Steelers the ball where Clark was touched down. An incorrect call would have been to give the ball to the Steelers but only after penalizing them for Hood's illegal touching. The incompetence came from none of the on-field magnificent seven seeing that Clark had possession of the ball, then awarding the ball to the Packers along with a first down, and then not allowing Mike Tomlin to challenge the play.
Do you think this snafu is trumpeted by the league to the same degree as the fines to Tomlin and Terence Garvin? Me neither.
Anyway, the Steelers didn't fold after that gift touchdown to the Packers, and in fact responded with a six-play, 68-yard drive for a touchdown to re-take the lead.
They called for a fake punt, and on that series the ball ended up in the end zone. They did that draw-the-defense-offside on a field goal attempt thing, and on that series the ball ended up in the end zone. They went for it on fourth down, and made it. They were 4-for-5 in the red zone. They had a pick-six – this one by Cortez Allen – for the first time in over a calendar year. They recorded more sacks than they allowed. They were even in turnover ratio.
In other words, the Steelers did the things that are necessary to win football games on a regular basis in the NFL, and they've been doing them consistently over a second half of a season that began with the questions.
Certainly it's not good enough to start doing things right only after a significant hole has been dug, but it should be remembered that a majority of this roster is populated by players new enough to all of this to be learning it still, with the more grizzled among them having to learn how to do it with this particular cast of characters.
Maybe they make the playoffs. Maybe they don't. But what they accomplished at Lambeau Field, what they have shown over the second half of this 2013 season, will serve them as they strive to make the playoffs in the future.