For the first eight weeks of the season, the top teams in the AFC have been Houston, Baltimore, New England and Denver. Now, after winning at the New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Steelers deserve to be on that list.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said leading up to Sunday's game that this was going to be the team's measuring stick, and the Steelers reminded the rest of the league how much of a threat they remain in notching their signature win.
There were doubts about the Steelers after they lost at Oakland and Tennessee. But beating the defending Super Bowl champions on their own turf not only builds confidence but it sends a message that the Steelers are still among the power players in the AFC.
And how the Steelers beat the Giants is just as important as who they beat. The Steelers traveled on the same day as the game to play an emotionally inspired team. They overcame controversial calls by the officials and a questionable call by their own coach (fake field goal, really?). And, perhaps most importantly, they dominated the fourth quarter, which had been an area where Pittsburgh struggled and the Giants excelled.
Down 10 points, the Steelers scored 14 points in the final 14 minutes and outgained the Giants, 147 to minus-9 in the fourth quarter. This was against a Giants team that tied an NFL record last season with seven fourth-quarter comebacks. This was from a Steelers team that had been outscored, 40-23, in the fourth quarter on the road this season.
"They're one of the best teams in the fourth quarter, and we were probably one of the worst teams in the fourth quarter [early in] the year," linebacker LaMarr Woodley told USA Today after the game. "We weren't doing a great job closing out games and playing against one of the best fourth-quarter teams, we answered today."
Beating the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins the previous two weeks are good wins, but they were against teams with losing records. Beating a Giants team that had won four straight and had averaged 30 points during that streak is far more impressive. The Steelers held Eli Manning to 125 passing yards, his fewest in a game since December 28, 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“This was the best win we’ve had in my four years here,” wide receiver Mike Wallace told reporters. “To get a win against defending Super Bowl champions, on a day like this where we overcame all this stuff -- all the passion and emotion they had after the hurricane here -- and we still came out and got the win, that says a whole lot about our team."