Steelers' win restores sense of normalcy

The defense gave the Steelers something to celebrate Sunday in posting their first win of the season. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was no Gatorade shower as time slipped away on a dying clock at MetLife Stadium. There wasn’t the kind of hooting and cheering in the victorious locker room that could have carried all the way across the Hudson River and into Gotham.

No, what qualified as a celebration after the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first game following an 0-4 start was what appeared to be an impromptu procession led by general manager Kevin Colbert.

Colbert, followed by president Art Rooney II and chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, went to each player individually in a cramped locker room, offering congratulations and a handshake.

It was all rather muted but very Steelers-like.

So was the victory that ended the proud organization’s worst slide to start a season since 1968.

The Steelers parlayed suffocating defense and stellar, error-free play from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into a 19-6 victory over the New York Jets.

The Steelers controlled the game after a shaky start -- so much so that after they had opened up a near-two-touchdown lead, Roethlisberger implored offensive coordinator Todd Haley to call one running play after another.

By the end of a game that started with Roethlisberger nearly getting buried in his own end zone by Muhammad Wilkerson, the Steelers had held the Jets without a touchdown, forced their first two turnovers of the season and matched the physicality of New York’s defense.

Tight end Heath Miller, who is always cooperative but rarely quotable, may have best summed it up in the Steelers' locker room.

"It feels right a little bit," Miller said after catching six passes for 84 yards. "It’s what we expect to do when we come into stadiums. Our goal is to see where we need to get better, because it was far from perfect, and move on to next week."

That, too, was a prevailing sentiment in the Steelers’ locker room.

As coach Mike Tomlin said during one of his patented postgame news conferences that takes less time than ordering a pizza, "It’s a good feeling. It’s not like we won the lottery, but it is still a good feeling nonetheless."

The Steelers finally have a reason to feel good about themselves, and not a moment too soon. At 1-4, they are still on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, as mediocre as the AFC looks on a weekly basis. But with the eminently beatable Ravens next up -- and at Heinz Field, no less -- the Steelers have to feel like they can go on the kind of run that can at least put them back into the postseason conversation.

That is why this victory against the Jets is worth considerably more than what it counts for in the standings.

What started as a pebble in the players’ cleats had turned into a psychological boulder that seemed to weigh them down at every turn. Now, at the very least, they won’t have to spend a week answering questions about why they can’t force turnovers or whether they will remain united in the face of mounting losses.

Or whether they are allowed to play pool, something Tomlin banned along with other games last week in the Steelers' locker room.

"We’re so used to coming out of that locker room after a win," Roethlisberger said after completing 23 of 30 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. "It’s been tough this year so far, but we have to keep that feeling going. I told the guys, 'Let us be happy right now but not be satisfied.'"

Roethlisberger was thinking big picture even before the Steelers had secured their first victory of any kind since December. With the Steelers grinding out the clock in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger asked Haley to bag the passing attack so the offensive line could close out the game.

"He agreed with me," Roethlisberger said, "and on the next drive we got one first down."

Indeed, three straight runs when everyone knew they were coming, especially the NFL’s second-ranked run defense, moved the chains. The sequence also provided a measure of confidence to an offensive line that is still finding itself.

How far stuff like that goes remains to be seen, as it was only one game -- and one win against a team that didn’t look nearly as good as its 3-2 record might suggest.

The Steelers still have plenty of digging out to do after nearly burying themselves with their September swoon. Which means we may not know for weeks how significant their win Sunday was, other than that it stopped some serious bleeding.

"Obviously it’s not the start we wanted, but the men in this locker room believe that there’s a chance that something great can come out of this if we all work toward it," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We’re not going to give up."