It had been too long since the Steelers had beaten the Patriots.
Then again, it had been too long since the Steelers had won a game.
“It’s been a while since we got a damn win, to be honest with you,” defensive end Cam Heyward acknowledged. “Three weeks since our last win, or four weeks?”
For the record, it had been since Nov. 18 in Jacksonville.
Sunday’s 17-10 decision of the Patriots at Heinz Field, thus, was embraced as necessary on a couple of levels.
“They’re a great team,” Heyward continued. “I always tip my hat to them because they’re an old-fashioned team that comes ready to play every week. It was nice to get the win. The last time I got the win (against New England) was 2011, and I wasn’t really playing much so this means a little bit more.”
It means the Steelers’ season-threatening, three-game losing streak has been snapped.
It means the Patriots’ five-game winning streak against the Steelers is history, a run that had bloated the Patriots’ record against the Steelers to 11-3 in the teams’ last 14 meetings.
And it means the Steelers are still one-half game ahead of the Ravens in the race for the AFC North Division championship.
“I’m not even going to lie to you, No. 1 get that monkey off your back but No. 2, also, we gotta position ourselves better,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Does it feel good? Will I enjoy it? Yes, but New Orleans is no joke, either.”
The Steelers finish their regular-season schedule this coming Sunday at New Orleans and on Dec. 30 against Cincinnati at Heinz Field.
“‘Munch’ (offensive line coach Mike Munchak) made a good point, if it takes three games like that losing streak and we win the rest of them, I think we’d all take those three losses and learn from it and go ahead,” guard David DeCastro said. “It’s a playoff atmosphere now.
“I think it’s one of those things where even beating those guys, we haven’t been able to beat them in a long time, you feel good but not overjoyed. We gotta go, Baltimore’s hot on our tail and we know it’s close.”
NOT THIS TIME: The Steelers gave up what turned out to be the game-winning points with no time remaining on Dec. 2 against the Chargers and with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Dec. 9 at Oakland.
This time, quarterback Tom Brady got the ball back at the New England 25-yard line with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots trailing by seven.
The Patriots reached the Steelers’ 11 but never got into the end zone.
“We want everyone on our team to trust the defense and to be able to trust us in key situations like that,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “You guys don’t have to worry, we’re going to stop them. You don’t have to be on the edge of your seat, we’re going to make that stop.
“And when you can have the rush and coverage and just trust our guys and lean on them and practice the way we’ve been practicing; we didn’t flinch, we had our backs up against the wall and we made plays.”
JOE TAKEAWAY: The Patriots’ second-to-last possession had ended with a leaping interception by cornerback Joe Haden at the Steelers’ 4.
It was just the fifth time the Steelers had intercepted Brady in 14 games and the seventh interception for the Steelers on the season (and first since inside linebacker Vince Williams had a 17-yard pick-six on Nov. 8 against Carolina).
“It’s big, man, really big,” Haden said. “We’re trying to build towards something. Having that three-game losing streak where we weren’t really stopping anything the second half of games, we really talked about it.
“We’re just trying to change that thing around, just trying to get right before the playoffs.”
WHATEVER IT TAKES: The offense got contributions it hadn’t previously that ranged from the spectacular to the subtle.
Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels had a season-high 19 carries and a season-high 142 rushing yards (Samuels said he’d never carried the ball 19 times or rushed for 100 yards in high school or college).
Wide receiver Eli Rogers caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards in his 2018 debut (Rogers was added to the 53-man roster on Saturday when offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert was placed on the reserve/injured list).
And rookie wide receiver James Washington led the Steelers with 65 receiving yards, including a 32-yard combat catch in the third quarter.
The Steelers also unveiled an empty set that featured five wide receivers for the first time this season (Ryan Switzer, Washington, Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown).
“We didn’t put up the points we wanted to, but it felt like we were out there doing some really good things,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger assessed.
“There was a lot of kind of ad-libbing out there in terms of putting guys in spots. There were things we don’t even have formations for when we were going five wides. I was kind of like ‘you go there, you go there, you run this.’ For that to happen and guys not to ask questions, not to look confused speaks to them and their preparation and the work they put in during the week to be out there and be great.”
HE SAID IT: “There’s no room for doubt in this game, absolutely none. This game is huge for us. We’re just going to start packing some momentum. We want to go all the way.” _ Steelers tight end Vance McDonald.