John Steigerwald: Winning streak has given Steelers a pulse
Back on Sept. 16 when it was announced Ben Roethlisberger would have surgery on his elbow and miss the last 14 games of the regular season, I had planned to predict the Steelers would win four of their next six games, but I forgot.
Remember when the conventional wisdom was the Steelers would be lucky to win five games with Mason Rudolph at quarterback?
Well, they’ve already won four, and one of those was with someone named Duck Hodges running their offense.
Maybe you had forgotten the Steelers were 2-6 in their previous eight games with Roethlisberger prior to his injury.
Who knew the team would improve with two quarterbacks who had never started an NFL game?
But here they are at 4-4 and very much in contention for a wild card spot if not the AFC North championship. Coach Mike Tomlin said, “We will work forever to get the September stench off us.”
And that stink came from losses to New England, Baltimore, San Francisco and Seattle — three division leaders and a second-place team.
Tomlin has never coached better. He may be boring you to tears with his offense, but it’s working. Rudolph averaged only 7 yards per completion Sunday night, but it was enough to win his second straight start.
It could all come to a screeching halt with a loss to the Rams at Heinz Field on Sunday, but a win in that game could set the Steelers up for a strong finish.
The following four games are against teams with a combined record of 7-25-1. The Browns and Bengals on the road, Browns at home and at Arizona.
The Steelers will be favored in all four, so it’s not all that outrageous to suggest the Steelers, if they can beat the Rams, could be 9-4 going into a Week 15 home game against the Bills, followed by a road game against the putrid Jets.
They finish the season in Baltimore on Dec. 29, and it’s possible the Ravens could have a bye and home field throughout the playoffs wrapped up by then and be resting starters.
Some big ifs there and nobody would be shocked if they lost at least one game to the Browns and were out of the wild card picture by December.
But, three wins in a row have given the Steelers a pulse, and that’s pretty good for a team that was left for dead a month ago.
Not a bad Baker
Steelers fans and lots of local media like to make fun of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, but he’s going to be a good NFL quarterback. He has some ugly stats right now, but if you’ve watched him play you should have noticed he’s been better than his numbers indicate.
He played well Sunday in a loss to the Broncos in Denver. Last week, he didn’t play any worse in New England than Roethlisberger did in Week 1, and he played better in Baltimore in a 40-25 win in Week 4 than Tom Brady played in this week’s loss to the Ravens. Don’t write him off yet.
Ravens keep winning with Jackson
Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh took a lot of ridicule when he said he drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round with the intention of building an offense around him.
Everybody knows you can’t win with a running quarterback.
The Ravens are 12-3 in the regular season since he became the starter for the final seven games last season, and he’s the first quarterback in NFL history to have more than 1,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards at the halfway point of a season.
Both Mayfield and Jackson are going to give Steelers defenses lots of trouble for a long time.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.