The Steelers would have taken a victory Sunday at Heinz Field under any circumstance against the Oakland Raiders. They needed a win to remain in good playoff position in a jumbled AFC playoff picture, but they also desired a feel-good performance to regain some of the swagger they had lost after a sound beating at the hands of the New England Patriots a week earlier.
The Steelers accomplished both missions with a 35-3 victory against the Raiders. The Steelers played one of their most complete games of the season with the offense, defense and special teams contributing to the most lopsided win by either team in the long history of the Steelers-Raiders rivalry.
"A win is a win, but we definitely wanted to establish our physicality and mental toughness," linebacker James Farrior said. "Last week, it got questioned a little bit. I think guys wanted to come out here more focused and with a little bit more fire, and we did that.
"It was a tough loss last week. We definitely wanted to bounce back and have a good game, have a good showing. [Sunday] helped. A win is a win, but it was definitely more impressive to have a big victory."
The Steelers are 7-3 and in good position to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under coach Mike Tomlin. They are tied atop the AFC North Division with the Baltimore Ravens, who hold a tiebreaker against the Steelers based on their victory in early October at Heinz Field. Because of that, if the playoffs started today, the Steelers would be the No. 6 seed and would have to play a first-round game on the road.
The Steelers hold a one-game advantage in the wild-card race. The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars are tied atop the AFC South, with the Jaguars holding a tiebreaker edge over the Colts based on a head-to-head victory. The Steelers have a tiebreaker advantage over the Colts and Jaguars based on a better conference record.
The Steelers have a two-game advantage in the wild-card race over the Raiders, Dolphins and Titans and a tiebreaker over each based on head-to-head victories.
That's not the only good news for the Steelers as they prepare for the final six regular-season games. Four of the six remaining games are against teams with losing records, including the game Sunday at the 2-8 Buffalo Bills.
The Steelers also have games left against Cincinnati (2-8), Carolina (1-9) and Cleveland (3-7). The only games left against teams with winning records are a date at the Ravens and at home vs. the Jets (8-2).
Of course, the Steelers need not be reminded that they had a favorable late-season schedule last season, when they dropped five consecutive games in November and December, including three to teams that finished with losing records.
"I would say we're in a better position than we were last season," linebacker James Harrison said. "Right about now is when we lost five in a row. We came out and executed well [against the Raiders] and won the game. First and foremost, we wanted to come out and win. After that, it was just about style points."
There were plenty of reasons to be encouraged about the win against the Raiders. The defense allowed only one field goal after surrendering 39 points to the Patriots. It allowed only 14 yards on 10 carries to Darren McFadden, one of the top running backs in the league. And it got back to pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers. The defense recorded six sacks and created three turnovers.
The offense compiled 431 yards and scored its second-most points of the season. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns as the passing game showed some signs of life.
But Roethlisberger said the offense still has room to grow over the final six weeks of the season.
"It's funny, because if you ask me I felt like we didn't have a good offensive performance," Roethlisberger said. "I felt that we were OK. I told the guys that at the very end. It's a good job of bouncing back and playing well, but we left a lot out there. It wasn't our best performance by any means."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.