The record is the same, but it feels better this time.
Lawrence Timmons, for one, maintained that this 8-8 would remain a feel-good 8-8 relative to the 2012 version, no matter the outcome of Sunday afternoon's Kansas City-San Diego game, the one that ultimately determined the Steelers' postseason fate.
The Steelers started 0-4 this season and found themselves at 2-6 following a 55-31 loss on Nov. 3 at New England. From there they went 6-2 in the season's second half, including a three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season.
"How we started and how we finished, it speaks volumes of where we can be and how we grew as a team," Timmons said.
Said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, "I'm really proud of what's happened. We started 0-4; things are not looking so good. Guys have just continued to fight, they've never quit. So yeah, I look at satisfaction, happy, proud of the fight. We're going to build on this whether we're getting ready for next week or next year. I think we've put together a good foundation. Whatever we're preparing for, building on, we'll do that."
Added wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, "I'm extremely proud of us. Starting off the season 0-4, to be able to get the record back to .500, I mean, it's amazing."
Nobody said that after 8-8 last season.
HOW'D THAT HAPPEN?
Roethlisberger addressed improvements made by the offense after the Steelers scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive game, the first time that had happened since the 2002 season (also nine straight).
"I think just a lot of guys are playing really well, stepping up for each other," he said. "The line has played great. It's been great to see everybody kind of grow, whether it's huddling, not huddling, hurrying up, slowing down, whatever it is it's just been growth and getting better every week. I feel like we're a team that's really on the rise."
Sanders' take: "I feel like the structure here is really good. We have a good quarterback who's coming into his prime. They're allowing him to be him and throwing the football, running this no-huddle offense, which I feel is unstoppable if we execute how we can execute."
Sanders, likewise, saw attitude as a factor in the Steelers' resurgence.
"Mike Tomlin always says you smile in the face of adversity," Sanders said. "When you go through adversity it's easy to point the finger at the next man or at the next (meeting) room in terms of positions. This team, we pointed the finger at ourselves and said, 'You know what? I can do better.' It wasn't about 'they,' it was about how I can do better and that's how we bounced back."
Free safety Ryan Clark spoke to improvement by the defense. "I think guys made plays. (Strong safety) Troy (Polamalu) was phenomenal down the stretch, making extremely big plays. (Defensive end) Cameron Heyward played a huge role up front in stopping the run, also pressuring the quarterback, and the things (outside linebacker) Jason Worilds was able to do. I think people grew into their roles and kind of came along into what the 2013 Steelers defense needed. And that was a process for us, with losing (inside linebacker) Larry (Foote) and just trying to figure out where to plug guys in.
"We had our ups and downs. It wasn't the dominance you're used to seeing from us, but it was good enough to win a lot of games down the stretch."
Polamalu also weighed in on the subject. "People make a big deal about digging ourselves out of a hole. I think this team has done a really good job of not really focusing on digging out of a hole because you can't look at it in the middle of the season from that perspective. It has to be a week-in, week-out battle against the next team. We've done that really well as of late."
NEXT STOP SAFETY?
Cornerback Ike Taylor said a position switch has been discussed.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, a little bit, a little bit, a little bit," Taylor said upon the conclusion of his 11th NFL regular season. "Just a little bit, so we'll see what happens, you just never know.
"I think I'd be a great safety. I have a lot of football in me whether they want me to play corner or safety, it really doesn't matter. We'll see what happens. I like playing football, like being around the young guys. I'm a young guy at heart, I like the atmosphere. We'll see what the front office and the coaching staff think."
THEY SAID IT
Sanders on becoming a free agent at season's end: "How can you not think about it? At the end of the day I am a free agent after the season. You never know what might occur, but of course I want to be here. My heart is here. This is the team that drafted me. All I know is Steelers football. I just pray everything works itself out and I'm still here."
Clark on playing for the Steelers: "It's been awesome, man. They gave me a chance twice. Coming out of Washington they gave me an opportunity to play, gave me an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Some of my best friends are here in Pittsburgh. There are people I will remember forever. It was a blessing and an honor to play for an organization like this, and I hope to continue playing but if not there will be no hard feelings, nothing but great memories."
Defensive end Brett Keisel on potentially playing his last game at Heinz Field: "I might have smelled the roses a little bit. It was a great defensive effort, a great team effort. I love being a Steeler."