They started fast, finished strong and got critical contributions from all three phases along the way.
The Steelers' 30-20 victory over the Bengals on Sunday night also avenged a 20-10 loss on Sept. 16 at Paul Brown Stadium and split the season series between the two AFC North Division rivals. To Steelers free safety Troy Polamalu that meant something beyond the Steelers keeping their faint playoff hopes flickering with the victory.
"For sure," he said. "It doesn't matter in my opinion or in my mind-set whether we're both playing for the first seed of the playoffs or whether we're not."
Other Steelers echoed Polamalu's sentiments.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "I've said for a bunch of weeks now there's going to be no quit from me, from anybody. (Sunday night) was a good example of that. Everyone fought hard from start to finish."
Free safety Ryan Clark: "I think it's meaningful just because it's a win. When you get the question a lot during the week what do you have to play for I think people are kind of looking for you to maybe have an opportunity to come out flat. We didn't do that. I'm excited about that for this team, excited about that for the leaders and also for the young guys. To see people come out and compete the way they did when seemingly to the outside world we had nothing to play for, it was good for us."
NO BIG PLAYS
Big plays against have been a problem for the Steelers all season, but the longest rush the Bengals managed was 9 yards and their two longest completions went for 19 yards each.
For a team that had allowed 11 plays of longer than 50 yards, that's progress.
"We really focused on the big play," Clark said. "When you have guys like (wide receiver) A.J. Green, (running back) Giovani Bernard, that's the way they get the ball down the field. They get big chunks and then they get into the end zone, so stopping that was huge for us.
"We played a lot of nickel (five defensive backs), which allowed Troy to play safety and kind of let us do some of the moving that we were used to doing. It gave us an opportunity to give them some different looks and I think it worked well."
Polamalu had previously been playing a great deal of what amounted to a linebacker position in six-defensive backs packages. Not on Sunday night.
"Yeah, my shoulders are pretty fresh," he said. "We gave them different looks. (Linebacker) Terrence (Garvin) came in and played well in the nickel package but our team played well. The way our offense played really took them out of their game plan early. Getting a special-teams touchdown is huge, as well."
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said the Bengals were heard from early and often.
"They were definitely out there barking," Bell reported. "The first play when I got the bubble-screen, No. 55 (Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict), he was like, 'I'm going to be here all day, all day.' No. 55, he was trash-talking a lot but that's what makes the game fun. That's what really gets me going, when guys are trash-talking and I'm trash-talking back.
"I love it."
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
The Steelers-Bengals Heinz Field rematch featured the first of what might turn out to be several seasons of head-to-head meetings between the first two running backs selected in the 2013 draft: Cincinnati's Bernard (37th overall) and Pittsburgh's Bell (48th overall).
Bell (foot) missed the first game between the teams on Sept. 16 in Cincinnati.
Prior to Sunday night the two compared statistically as follows: Bernard had 131 carries for 620 yards (4.7 average) and four touchdowns, plus 47 catches for 403 yards and three more touchdowns; Bell had 174 carries for 589 yards (3.4 average) and five touchdowns, plus 38 catches for 347 yards.
Last Sunday night, Bell touched the ball 12 times on the Steelers' first 16 offensive snaps on the way to a 107-yard night (57 yards rushing on a career-high 24 carries, 50 yards receiving).
Bernard had 33 yards rushing and 13 receiving.
They both had 1-yard touchdown runs.
COMPARISON, PART II
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had an argument as the best player on the field at his position prior to kickoff. Brown came in with 90 catches, 1,240 receiving yards, a 13.8 average and seven receiving touchdowns. The Bengals' A.J. Green had 78 catches, 1,175 receiving yards, a 15.1 average and eight touchdown receptions.
Green wound up with more catches (9-5) and more receiving yards (93-66) but Brown also scored a pair of touchdowns (on a 12-yard catch and a 67-yard punt return).
STATS DON'T LIE, OR DO THEY?
Through three quarters the Steelers were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions, 2-for-4 in converting red zone opportunities into TDs and were no better than even in takeaway/giveaway (each team had turned it over once at that juncture).
Through three quarters the Steelers led, 30-7.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Beating the Bengals as they did had Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders regretting the Steelers' inability to put such complete performances together more frequently.
"You always want to be in playoff contention every year no matter what," he said. "I've said several times it's going to suck being at home in the month of January watching guys continue to play football in search of the Lombardi Trophy. That's what we play for, that's what we work hard for. Hopefully, it'll come next year.
"I really don't feel like it was a statement because, I've said it again, we have athleticism. We have a good team, a good nucleus of guys in this locker room. The season has boiled down to us not putting it together in all three phases. (Sunday night) we showed that if we put it together in all three phases what can happen."