PITTSBURGH -- Nearly four weeks ago, Ben Roethlisberger stood near his locker and delivered two simple words about his leadership plans for the season's second half: Follow me.
"The guy's a competitor," Steelers guard David DeCastro said. "Once he turns it on even more and puts in an extra gear, it's awesome."
When the Pittsburgh Steelers faced trouble midway through the third quarter, Roethlisberger delivered the kind of drive that only a handful of humans could orchestrate.
He strong-armed a 33-yard completion through a pocket full of Giants.
He launched a well-timed ball to the sideline to a toe-tapping Antonio Brown.
On a day the Steelers had to have it, Big Ben was at his biggest, answering a Giants touchdown drive and keeping the lead at 14 before letting Le'Veon Bell handle most of the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger was 4-of-4 for 71 yards on that drive.
It was brilliant performance and the difference in the game.
The offense stayed patient throughout. The Giants played the Steelers' vertical game, so Pittsburgh gashed them with screens and seam routes.
"Work it downfield, find the open guy," Roethlisberger said.
And don't think he's not still motivated by playing Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft and 10 picks above Roethlisberger -- who looked like the better quarterback 12 years later.
The defense was just as bullish, baiting Manning into two interceptions and holding Odell Beckham Jr. to 105 yards, a handful of those in garbage time. The Steelers' gameplan, cornerback Ross Cockrell said, was to "put hands" on Beckham and other receivers, be physical with them. Beckham had a few bright moments, but Manning couldn't spread the ball around efficiently.
Whatever Roethlisberger is doing on offense, James Harrison is matching it on defense; two thirtysomethings putting up numbers at the right time. Harrison has five sacks in his past five games and has applied pressure many other times.
On the game-sealing sack of Manning on fourth down midway through the fourth, at least four Steelers were involved in the takedown. Ricardo Mathews got the credit, but many Steelers were around the ball all game. That includes Sean Davis with his first career interception, Mike Mitchell with two third-down pass breakups and Lawrence Timmons' field-flipping interception from underneath coverage.
Leave it to Harrison to sack any potential ego in the room, calling the team's performance "an alright job."
"We're nowhere near where it needs to be," Harrison said. "It's going to take time."
A team that underachieved for the better part of two months is peaking at the perfect time. That Week 10 loss to Dallas could have crushed the Steelers. Instead, it galvanized them.
With the Baltimore Ravens pounding the Miami Dolphins earlier Sunday, the Steelers couldn't afford to fall to 6-6 with four weeks left. The AFC North division is the only clear path to the playoffs, and that Steelers-Ravens matchup on Christmas Day sets up nicely for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers' quarterback likes his chances.