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Kovacevic: Steelers back? Not yet, but …

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

The Steelers aren't back.

Yeah, I was there, too, when Shaun Suisham sliced the uprights in the last second to set down the hated Ravens, 19-16, and set off a celebration unlike any at Heinz Field in far too long.

It was, as Ryan Clark put it, “great for us and the city to get that feeling back.”

Sure was. A joy to absorb.

I can see the standings, too, which, thanks to the parity-driven NFL and the parody-driven AFC North, somehow have the 2-4 Steelers a single game back in the loss column for the wild card and right there with all their division mates save the 5-2 Bengals.

And I see the coming schedule, as well, listing the Raiders, Patriots, Bills, Lions, Browns and these Ravens again followed by the Dolphins.

Anyone scary in there?

Not if you saw Tom Brady misfire on more than half his passes in the OT loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.

It's all there. I can see it, and I can tally up what surely will have than a few folks hopeful that the Steelers have made a hard pivot from 0-4 and London and Ben Roethlisberger's proclamation that “we're probably the worst team in the league” and shuffleboard-gate and all else that brought the franchise's 40-year rock bottom.

But the Steelers being back?

Hey, why take it from me?

Here's what that question collected on a tour of the winning locker room …

Roethlisberger: “We've still got a hole, and we're still trying to get out.”

Le'Veon Bell: “Not yet.”

Antonio Brown: “It's not time to feel good about ourselves.”

Ramon Foster: “Not yet.”

David DeCastro, at the next stall after overhearing me ask Foster: “No.”

The always colorful Clark: “Not yet. But we aren't dead yet, either.”

Exactly. And that's pretty much all, if anything, is there to savor.

Sure, it's a start.

There's no denying that Ben and his receivers have found more of a rhythm, that Brown's at an elite level, that Todd Haley's playbook has expanded from the table of contents to honest-to-gosh wildcat sets, that Bell and his 93 rushing yards add a new dimension and that, above all — way above all — the offensive line looks … well, hey, competent.

Who could have imagined that with a signed-off-the-street center and two emergency tackles in as many weeks?

Here's what Arthur Jones, the Ravens' defensive tackle, had to say: “They outplayed us. Hats off to them.”


That's why you saw Bell hesitate in looking for a hole before powering through and falling forward in the mold of a young Eddie George.

“I'm always patient,” Bell explained. “I've got to trust my line to get me something, and they did.”

The defense had its highlights, too, notably William Gay swatting away two touchdowns and the continuing resurrection of Woodley's career.

But so much more is needed.

The offense is getting yards, has balance and is eating clock, but two touchdowns over two wins, as Roethlisberger duly noted, “isn't what we want.” In this game, the Steelers breached the Baltimore 16, 10 and 20 without a TD.

Red-zone efficiency is incumbent on the QB more than anyone, but the receivers also have to fare far better in creating daylight.

“We feel like we're getting better as an offense, but we've got work to do,” Brown said. “All of us.”

Defensively, the problem is precisely the reverse: The Steelers give up yards and clock even if they've only given up one touchdown in the past two games. The run defense is still solid, but the secondary remains too loose.

“We're getting better,” Clark said.

Then, as he's wont to do, he extrapolated on the team's status in general.

“You know, there were things earlier this season, when I was asked about those, I was honest. I was honest about the importance of having a healthy Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell. I was honest about our O-line needing to work together when Maurkice Pouncey went out. Larry Foote was a big loss, too. Those aren't excuses. They're just football. You have to overcome adversity.”

The Steelers have come a long way since London. Give them that much.

But there are oceans to cross.

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