This victory, snatched away from what seemed like almost certain defeat, was enough to make believers out of the most skeptical of doubters. This fourth-quarter phenomenon will turn heads and change minds of football fans and football professionals across the country. But that's not the half of it. What transpired on the bitter cold ground of Heinz Field yesterday was the special kind of victory that can take a very good team and elevate it to another level.
The Steelers, 10-3, are not just poised to enter the playoffs, they are primed to make it to the Super Bowl. There are many hurdles to overcome, starting Sunday in Baltimore, but the Steelers of 2008 have the look of the Steelers of 2005.
To play so poorly for so long against a championship-caliber team such as the Dallas Cowboys and yet come away with a 20-13 victory isn't just special, it's magical.
The Steelers scored 17 points in the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds to send the Cowboys to a staggering defeat and spread joy throughout their worldwide fan base.
It was a game of offensive ineptitude more than of defensive brilliance.
It was a game of botched chances and broken plays. What was expected to be another renewal in the grand rivalry between two members of the NFL aristocracy turned into a bit of a farce. If this was a preview of the Super Bowl, as some had suggested, well, call off the Super Bowl.
But Mike Tomlin looked past all of that. Tomlin is a football coach and a realist. He saw a win, and he saw much more.
Brimming with pride, Tomlin opened his remarks at his postgame news conference by saying, "What a beautiful game, and I mean that. I just told the team that. People are too preoccupied with style points. That was a beautiful football game because we displayed mettle and we hung together."
This was a victory forged mostly by what is the best defense in the NFL.
The defense shut down the Cowboys offense and made the big plays that have come to be expected of it. James Harrison forced yet another fumble. Troy Polamalu, the NFL leader, intercepted a pass, as did the previously cement-handed Ike Taylor. But those plays were small-time compared to the interception snatched by Deshea Townsend on the Dallas 26, on a ridiculously thrown ball by Tony Romo, with 1 minute, 51 seconds remaining, and returned for the game-winning touchdown.
None of that was out-of-the-ordinary stuff for this unit that leads the NFL against both the pass and the rush. What was unexpected was the offense, which had been nothing but awful, coming to life in the final minutes.
Simply put, for the first 50 minutes of the game the offense could do virtually nothing. It gained 101 yards in the first three quarters, and that after gaining 50 on the first two possession. On possessions three through 10, the Steelers ran 28 plays and gained 51 yards.
The Steelers, mostly on the strength of a 47-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, moved to a first and goal on the Dallas 5 early in the fourth quarter. What followed was pretty much what the offense had done all game: Willie Parker ran for 2 yards twice to move the ball to the 1. A pass to Gary Russell gained nothing. On fourth down from the 1, Tomlin, trailing, 13-3, rejected a field-goal attempt and sent Gary Russell into the heart of the Dallas defense. He was thrown for a 2-yard loss.
But this failure seemed to arouse the Steelers. They used the good field position earned from this near-score to get a field goal minutes later.
Then, after a bad Dallas punt gave them the ball on their 33, the offense awoke.
Roethlisberger called it "desperation."
He said, "The guys knew we had to do it. We knew it was time to score and score quickly."
The offense that couldn't move the ball all of a sudden raced down the field -- 67 yards in eight plays -- to tie the game.
Townsend and the defense took care of the rest.
Too often, victories of this magnitude are followed by a letdown, which is something the Steelers cannot afford. If they had trouble with the Dallas defense, they will have even more at 9-4 Baltimore, which is ranked second in the league. A week later, they play at Tennessee, which is 12-1 and has the third-ranked defense.
It's a schedule of immense challenge. But based on what they did against the Cowboys, it's one the Steelers are capable of handling.
Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .