Tens of thousands at Heinz Field clearly were having a blast today as the Steelers had their way in every phase of the game with the Buffalo Bills in a 23-10 victory that was more dominating than the final score indicated.
Across the country and across the world, no doubt, Steelers Nation was in rejoice mode as the defense returned to what once was its norm -- excellent throughout -- and the offense was more than good enough.
But the joy was not complete. There remains a small portion of the fan base, some of whom comment on this site, who were unhappy with the victory.
Their thinking is not as lopsided as it appears. Their belief is the Steelers, with no chance of advancing to the playoffs, need to lose and lose and lose in order to better position themselves in the draft and come away with a crop of rookies that will begin the turnaround of the franchise.
There’s something to be said for that scenario, and if it plays out, there’s a distinct upside to such a finish.
But losing is never good. Never.
Winning breeds more winning and losing breeds more losing. No team wants to encourage losing.
The Steelers struggled for decades in the early years of the franchise to establish a winning tradition, which was finally accomplished, spectacularly, in the 1970s. The franchise, even through some lean years in the 1980s, has never lost that edge. And it’s not likely to lose it with a 5-11 or 4-12 record this season. But no one wants to push that envelope.
The Steelers need to play as hard as they can for the remainder of the season. They need to play their best players, not their youngest, in the final seven games. Benching veterans who don't have much of long-term future might seem like a good idea to some, but it’s not. It sends the wrong message to the team, a message that probably would not carry over -- but you never know.
With the win, the Steelers are 3-6 and left to wonder what might have been as Cincinnati, in first place in the AFC North, lost in overtime to Baltimore, 20-17. The division standings read like this: Cincinnati is first at 6-4 but the loser of two straight; Cleveland and Baltimore, in second, are 4-5 and the Steelers are last at 3-6.
The Steelers are not only two losses off the lead with seven games remaining, but have two teams between themselves and the Bengals. Losses to Minnesota and Oakland will haunt the Steelers.
Had the Steelers played in those games as they did today the outcomes might have been different. The defense, horribly embarrassed last week by New England, shut down the Bills, a considerably lesser offense. Buffalo scored on a field goal in its first possession and a meaningless touchdown on its last and was totally throttled in between.
The highly regarded Bills running game was stopped cold when it counted and quarterback EJ Manuel was made to look incompetent, finishing with a 63.5 passer rating.
On offense, Antonio Brown caught six passes for 104 yards and added 74 more yards on two punt returns. The running game picked up some tough yards but failed to dominate. It finished with a respectable 136 yards on 33 carries, but 25 of those came on one run by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
No. 1 draft choice Le’Veon Bell carried 22 times for 57 yards. Jonathan Dwyer had the best day, six carries for 38 yards.