The Steelers do not know if their 23-10 victory Sunday against the Buffalo Bills will signal a revival of historic proportions in the second half of their season, or if it merely was a side trip in their road to oblivion.
What they know for sure is that for one day, they played the kind of football they long thought they were capable of playing. And who knows? Maybe they can do it again.
"It was a step in the right direction, it was," Brett Keisel said. "One step in the right direction. One good game. We don't need to pat ourselves on the back, we just need to continue to work and do the things we did this week to get us this win."
Tomlin discusses the Steelers' win 23-10 win over Bills
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks about his team's win Sunday at Heinz Field. (Video by Matt Freed; 11/10/2013)
Steelers Report: Steelers 23, Bills 10
Steelers beat writers Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers' win this afternoon against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field. (Video by Peter Diana; 11/10/2013)
And so the Steelers are 3-6 after knocking the Bills to 3-7. They might have been two teams passing in different directions or two teams headed nowhere. For one day, at least the Steelers had Buffalo.
And it was just what the doctor ordered after their dreadful visit a week earlier to New England.
"It was appropriate," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We had an embarrassing performance a week ago. You've got to swallow it and chew it, and we did. We didn't let it stop our preparation."
It was like old times at Heinz Field, back to, oh, 2011 when they ran well, stopped the run and won.
The Steelers led by just 10-3 at halftime but really, it was over. They had outgained the Bills in total yards, 213-83, and that included 99 yards rushing. It might have been 17-0 had the wind not helped cause a Ben Roethlisberger interception on the game's first drive.
The Steelers had driven 44 yards to a second down at Buffalo's 36 when Jairus Byrd picked off a pass at the 14 and returned it 57 yards to the Steelers 29.
But even some good came of that when, after reaching the Steelers 3 on second down, the Bills were stopped at the 1 and came away with just a 20-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter.
"The big thing is stepping in and playing right from the get-go," Keisel said. "Holding them to a field goal there on our first series was big for us."
And that was that for Buffalo's offense under rookie EJ Manuel, who returned from a knee injury only to get powdered at Heinz Field. The Bills did call a timeout with five seconds left so they could score on Manuel's 2-yard touchdown pass to Chris Gragg.
In between, it was all Steelers -- Shaun Suisham kicked three field goals of 23, 36 and 37 yards. Jerricho Cotchery caught a 5-yard touchdown pass -- his sixth -- on a fade from Roethlisberger. Rookie Le'Veon Bell ran for his fourth touchdown, getting renewed life on that series after the Steelers pulled the Bills offside with the count on a 29-yard field-goal attempt.
"That was a good performance in a lot of areas by a lot of people," Tomlin said, "but particularly after the first initial drive there where we turned the ball over. I thought we were able to settle down and find rhythm and establish the running game and convert some third downs."
The Steelers finished with 136 yards rushing and a 4.1-yard average. Modest in terms of their past ability to run the ball, but when you are ranked 28th doing so in this unusual season with a 3.5-yard average per carry and you do it against the NFL's seventh-ranked run defense, not so bad.
Antonio Brown, one week after Tomlin benched him at the end of the game for blowing a route assignment, was on his details Sunday. The NFL's leader in receptions caught six passes for 104 yards and returned two punts for 74 yards. He did not score, but he set up 17 points with his returns and catches.
"We are here in the position we are in and every player is going to be measured upon," Brown said. "Each time we go out there, we've got to have something to prove and go all out."
Roethlisberger had more to prove after the game as well, after a nondescript 18 of 30 performance for 204 yards, four sacks and a 77.6 passer rating. He refuted a report by the NFL Network and NFL.com that he would ask to be traded after the season. Team president Art Rooney II and Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, vehemently denied the report but not even as strongly as Roethlisberger did.
"It is one of the most [ridiculous] stories that I've ever heard of," Roethlisberger said after winning his 100th game, including postseason. "I've always said that I want to be a Steeler for life. I love it here. I'm happy here. I don't want to go anywhere. No one in my family, our camp, agents, no one has ever said anything about that. Wherever this was made up from is totally false."
"I'd retire before I'd accept a trade."
Manuel became yet another rookie victim of Dick LeBeau's defense, which is 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks, including postseason. Manuel completed 22 of 39 passes for only 155 yards, that late touchdown and Ryan Clark's team-high second interception.
There also were three sacks, which aren't much except when you've only had 13 in the first half of the season. Cam Heyward had his second, Lawrence Timmons had his first and rookie Jarvis Jones finally got his first.
All week LeBeau reminded them to do their jobs, not try to get out of position to help someone else. It was one reason they had given up so many plays, culminating in those team-record 55 points and 610 yards they allowed a week ago to the Patriots.
They listened, and they put it to good use.
"It was an appropriate response after what happened to us a week ago," Keisel said. "Being embarrassed like that, it was good for us to come back, bounce back and play like we did."
But can it continue? The Detroit Lions bring a 6-3 record to Heinz Field Sunday.
"We have to play like that," Keisel said. "If we want to finish this thing right, we need to play this way in every game."
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.