This team Sunday night looked almost emboldened, feeling the Patriots beat them 27-24 on a technicality more than their performance. Before the controversial overturned Jesse James touchdown and Ben Roethlisberger's last-seconds interception, the Steelers held the ball for more than 35 minutes and held a lead for nearly 33 minutes. They trailed for all of 5:24.
And they did all this without their MVP candidate, Antonio Brown.
There was reason to believe the Steelers would be uneasy, given the road to the Super Bowl might go through Gillette Stadium once again, but it's clear they feel comfortable with any January matchup.
"We'll see them again and the outcome will be different," wide receiver Eli Rogers said.
The Steelers are an imperfect but sometimes brilliant team, and it seemed that formula would allow them to extend their winning streak to nine after intercepting Tom Brady for the first time in 12 years with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
Throwing safety Sean Davis and a few others at Rob Gronkowski proved a futile effort. Gronk is simply the Steelers killer. Nothing the Steelers try on him works. But take Gronk out and the Patriots, as a whole, looked fairly beatable against Pittsburgh. Beating them in the playoffs seems attainable.
The blueprint is now clear -- beat Houston and Cleveland to ensure, at the least, the No. 2 overall seed in the AFC. Hope the Patriots drop a game and allow the Steelers to move up to the No. 1 spot. As it stands, the current playoff setup would have Jacksonville coming to Heinz Field in the divisional round, giving the Steelers -- and, they hope, a healthy Brown -- the chance to exorcise that 30-9 Jaguars defeat from Week 5.
"We've got to keep winning, do the necessary things, get some playoff games from home," James said. "Hopefully we can still do it. We'll stay focused. This won't affect us."
Added guard David DeCastro: "I'd love to see [New England] again. We'll come back hungry."
The Steelers know they have things to clean up, including how they pressure Brady. They said they'd go up the middle, but often took a wide-angled approach Sunday, letting Brady step up for crucial throws. But all three starting defensive linemen got a hit on Brady, which is a good sign.
The offense found a nice groove with Martavis Bryant (four catches, 59 yards) coming alive and JuJu Smith-Schuster (six catches, 114 yards) becoming one of the league's best rookie playmakers. Rogers has emerged from the early-season doghouse, and Le'Veon Bell's game translates on the road as well as at home.
In fact, the Steelers seem confident enough to want Jacksonville and New England, considering what happened in the regular season.
"I like a shot at everyone that we lose to," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "There's a road that we have to take. I know that we have the same record now. At the end of the day, we have a lot of football ahead of us. Two games and a guaranteed football game. Now we have to go on a four-game winning streak from here. I don’t look at it anything crazy but five games, I mean, four to the Super Bowl. Three guaranteed because we are guaranteed a playoff. I’m looking forward to all of it. We can be dejected about this, but I like we are at."