"That's a good feeling for us," said cornerback Joe Haden, whose fourth-quarter interception swung momentum in a 17-10 victory.
"It was just time, man," added fellow corner Mike Hilton about snapping the Patriots' five-game winning streak over his squad.
But this team has seen too much, knows too much to hyperventilate over any win. They watched Le'Veon Bell leave and never return. They've sandwiched a six-game winning streak with a 2-5-1 record, entering Sunday's matchup with three straight losses. They can hold Tom Brady to 10 points and lose to the Oakland Raiders within an eight-day span.
So excuse Steelers guard David DeCastro for quelling the hype over slaying the Patriots.
"It’s one of those games where even though I hadn’t beaten them in my career, everyone’s like, 'Well, the Ravens are still a half-game behind,'" DeCastro said. "Everyone was like, 'We knew we could do this.' No one on this team thought we couldn't beat them.
"We can beat anybody. We can also lose to anybody."
The Patriots game served as what center Maurkice Pouncey called an unofficial start to the Steelers' playoffs. Sitting at 7-5-1 through 14 weeks created that reality. The margin for error is as thin as the crossbars place-kicker Chris Boswell battles every Sunday. The Ravens are closing in, winning four of their past five since dropping a Week 9 matchup with Pittsburgh. The Ravens can flip the field this weekend with a win at the Los Angeles Chargers and a Steelers loss against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
Because of these factors, beating New England was more about confidence than outlasting Brady once and for all.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and others talked openly postgame about what the recent three-game losing streak required: a response, either to divide or galvanize.
"[The win] felt big because of our present circumstances," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We like to believe that we are the common denominator in all stories involving us, and it was less about the opponent and more about, particularly how we have played of late, in terms of having an opportunity to finish games."
The Steelers dropped halftime leads against the Chargers and Raiders, but Haden's leaping interception in the fourth quarter might just create a turnover mudslide. The Steelers were without an interception for a full month.
The renewed edge came in solitude. DeCastro said the game plan of the week was clear: Focus on your game, and the man beside you will do the same.
For Haden, that meant being in the right spot and simply catching the ball, and the fourth-quarter stops would come. He was tired of watching passes hit defensive backs in the face.
The Patriots' two red zone trips in the fourth quarter ended in the Steelers' hands, thanks to Haden's pick and safety Morgan Burnett's batted ball on fourth-and-15.
The Patriots' offense wasn't as lethal as in years past, but stopping it still does something to a defense.
"It's really, really big," Haden said of what the defensive stops do for confidence. "We are just always trying to build toward something. Having that three-game losing streak, we weren't really stopping anything in the second halves of games. We really talked about that and trying to make it right before the playoffs."
Which started Sunday, apparently.