First victory brightens Steelers' outlook
The Steelers' chances of making the playoffs are 5 percent, or about as faint a glimmer of hope as there can be.
They're still not running the ball with any authority or consistency. Their offensive line can't get through pregame warm-ups without a major injury. Their pass rush is spotty, their average field position is the worst in the league.
And yet this is the best the Steelers have felt about themselves all season.
Finally, despite being near the bottom of the league in an abundance of statistical categories, the Steelers are no longer last in the category that counts most: Wins.
“A win, especially with what's going on this season, is great,” center Fernando Velasco said after the first Steelers victory in 287 days, a 19-6 decision Sunday over the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Especially when what had been going on this season was nothing but losing.
Maybe all this team needed was to win one game — just one — to start feeling right about itself. To start believing it can make something of a season that seemed all but lost following the 0-4 start.
“We believe it,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “We're not going to give up. We're not going to quit. It wasn't the start we wanted, but the men in this locker room believe that there's a chance that something great can come out of this if we all work toward it.”
Something great would be making the playoffs, which only six of the 118 teams that started 1-4 between 1990 and last season managed to do.
If the Steelers own any hope of becoming the seventh team in the last 23 years to do it, beating the Ravens (3-3) on Sunday at Heinz Field is also a must.
Coach Mike Tomlin emphasized after the Steelers dropped their first four that they had played only one AFC North game, and the division remained wide open.
Ryan Clark followed that up by saying the goal was to run the table on the remaining division schedule: the Ravens on Sunday, at Cleveland on Nov. 24 and at Baltimore four days later, and the Bengals (Dec. 15) and Browns (Dec. 29) at home during the season's final three weeks.
Impossible? The 1976 Steelers won their final nine after starting 1-4, but they needed arguably the greatest season by any defense in NFL history to achieve it.
But, as Clark said, winning a second time doesn't seem nearly as daunting as winning that first time.
“When you have that zero in the win column, your mind automatically goes to, ‘Let's get that first win,' ” Clark said. “Now you're just trying to win every game. There is not as much pressure on each and every play, especially for the younger guys that have never had a win. Or for the young guys that were here last year when we were losing down the stretch.”
Eighteen of the Steelers current 53 players had not experienced winning with them.
“When you think about it, we expect to win,” said Velasco, who, before this season, watched the Steelers from afar while playing for Tennessee. “We've got to build on it and keep going.”
There's little alternative, unless the Steelers' season is to become irrelevant by Halloween.
“We're so used to coming out of that locker room with a win,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “It's been tough this year, but we have to keep this feeling going.”