They scored 37 points but could have had more.
That's the type of combustibility the Steelers had working for them on Sunday afternoon against Detroit. And that's the type of potential waiting to be realized for an offense that's getting better but hasn't maxed out yet.
Three plays in particular were left on the field.
Second-and-6 from the Detroit 7-yard line, second quarter, Steelers ahead, 14-3: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw underneath to running back Le'Veon Bell on a crossing route just inside the 5-yard line. The ball glanced off Bell's hands, incomplete. The Steelers settled for a field goal.
Bell's take: "That was a touchdown. It wasn't behind me. It was definitely a catchable ball. As soon as I turned my head the ball was kind of right there. That's something I got to pull in. That's something I pull in in practice all the time and that's why Ben threw it the way he did. That's something I got to pull in and make that play."
Second-and-10 from the Detroit 12, second quarter, Steelers ahead, 17-10: Roethlisberger threw for tight end Heath Miller in the back of the end zone. Miller went up and got two hands on the ball before being hit by Lions safety Glover Quin. When Miller hit the ground the ball popped out, incomplete. The Steelers settled for another field goal.
Miller's take: "I had it, yeah. I should find a way to hang onto it. Obviously, that's four points that we didn't get. Against a good offense you'll need those four points. Fortunately we didn't today but in the future we'll need them."
Second-and-goal from the Detroit 1, third quarter, Lions ahead, 27-20: Roethlisberger threw for tight end David Paulson in the middle of the end zone off a play-action fake. Paulson was uncovered (the Lions had double-covered Miller). Either Paulson stumbled or Roethlisberger overthrew the ball or both. The result was the same either way, incomplete. The Steelers settled for still another field goal.
Paulson's take: "I'm not really sure. It felt like I kind of got stuck in the ground. I have to see it on film, but it felt like my foot got stuck in the ground. Obviously, throw to the open guy if possible, we just didn't connect. It was a tough one, coming that open and not being able to finish the play."
Roethlisberger's take*: "I'll take the blame for not making a better throw. I couldn't see if there was anyone coming from the inside so I just put it high and outside where only he could make the play, and I just threw it probably too high."
The offense was good enough to win in a shootout against a high-octane offense on Sunday. But the players emerged convinced that, as an offensive unit, they're capable of even more.
"We left a lot out there," Roethlisberger said. "I felt like we were better, but I'm still going to be disappointed because I felt like I left plays out there, we left plays out there. I set the bar pretty high and I know the rest of the guys do, too.
"I'm going to look at 37 (points), we won, but I'm going to look at 'dang, we could have had …,' because that's just who I am."
Added Miller: "We haven't reached our potential yet. I don't want to say we're getting close, but I think we see glimpses of what we're capable of, and that's what we keep striving for."
A JOB HALF DONE
The defense pitched a second-half shutout.
But after allowing 27 points and 379 total net yards in the first half – more points and yards than the Steelers had allowed in six of their first nine full games – safety Troy Polamalu wasn't in the mood to celebrate.
"It helps when your offense is playing the way it's playing," Polamalu said. "Our performance was good enough to win today, but it's not up to our par."
Polamalu was asked if, given what the Lions are capable of doing on offense, the normal defensive standard of performance by the Steelers ought to be adjusted.
"I've been here for 11 years," he said. "We've played against a lot of great offenses. For the guys who have been here three years, they've had a playoff, one loss and done (in 2011), an 8-8 season (in 2012) and then obviously we started off rough this year. We just have to make sure the level of expectation doesn't change.
"Although they're a very talented offense we still have a mentality that we should dominate everybody."
An unusual postgame exchange took place between Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward and Lions holder/punter Sam Martin.
Heyward and nose tackle Steve McLendon stopped Martin on the Lions' fake field-goal attempt from the Steelers' 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. McLendon was credited with a forced fumble on the play. Detroit led 27-23 at the time.
"He was just like, 'How did you guys sniff it out? It usually works all the time'," Heyward said. "We were just ready for it. I think it was more just executing. First we just executed our jobs and then we just played instincts. It just worked out to our favor."
WHAT IT MEANT
Heyward on the significance of the win: "It's a 'W.' There are things we can learn from it. Learn from this and just keep growing."
And Heyward on what the Steelers learned: "Don't give up as many points (27) in the second quarter."