Just about everyone with an opinion on the Steelers voiced their displeasure with the performance of the offensive line the first month of the season. The Steelers ranked last in the NFL in rushing offense entering Sunday's game against the Eagles with a 2.6 yards per carry average.
The players are used to hearing scathing criticism from fans, but during the off week they heard it from someone with an opinion that really matters.
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler called out his players behind closed doors, and they responded with their best effort of the season in the 16-14 victory at Heinz Field.
"Our coach asked for it," right guard Ramon Foster said. "When coach Kugler has his credibility on the line, we have to make it happen for him. It was good to finally click."
The Steelers rushed for 136 yards and 4.4 yards per carry. They totaled 195 yards on the ground in the first three games.
The running game was particularly effective in the second half. They had 96 rushing yards in the final two quarters. Of those yards, 63 came on the final two drives, including 26 on the final drive that led to the winning field goal by Shaun Suisham.
"We just knew we had a good rhythm," left guard Willie Colon said. "We felt we were starting to wear them out up front. They were trying to be cheap shot artists, doing things after the whistle. It was about us keeping our cool, digging it out and fighting."
Foster and Colon said the return of running back Rashard Mendenhall played a big role in the success of the run game. Mendenhall had 84 yards on 14 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown, the only touchdown of the game for the Steelers.
"I think [Mendenhall] did a great job of finding the hole and hitting it," Colon said. "He didn't second-guess anything. He read it well. When he got holes he hit them. Just happy he's back with us."
Said Foster: "It was a breath of fresh air to have him out there."
The line also protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger well. Roethlisberger was not sacked and threw for 207 yards.
Colon's transition from right tackle to left guard continues to be a work in progress. He was called for holding four times. One of the penalties was declined.
"The refs are right behind me," he said. "They can see it if I'm out of the frame. I take ownership for all four holds. I can't do that. I can't hurt my team like that."
Suisham converted a 34-yard field goal with no time remaining, but the Steelers would not have needed his heroics if they made some plays that could have put the game away earlier.
Antonio Brown dropped a pass in the end zone late in the second quarter. A few plays later, Brown caught a pass for 18 yards to the Eagles 9. He might have scored had he continued to the outside rather than cut back toward the middle.
On the next play, Jerricho Cotchery caught a pass at the 5-yard line, but tripped and fell at the 2. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Mike Wallace dropped a pass in Eagles territory when he got behind the secondary. He had three drops in the game.
"It was a below average performance by myself and I'm pretty sure Mike will tell you the same thing," Brown said. "There were a couple of balls we left out there, a touchdown pass by me dropped. I cut back on the run and I could have kept going to the outside and cashed in seven. Those are the types of things we have to get better at."
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu exited the game in the first half and did not return. Woodley has a right hamstring injury and Polamalu aggravated the calf injury that kept him out against the Jets and Raiders.
Head coach Mike Tomlin did not know the severity of either injury, but with a game Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tomlin said of Woodley: "Working on a short week is probably not a good sign for him."
Tight end Wesyle Saunders is eligible to return to the team today after serving a four-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance.
However, the Steelers will not have to make room for Saunders on their 53-man roster for a week, provided they request an exemption for Saunders. They still can only dress 46 players for Thursday night's game. Saunders will be eligible to play. After that, they will have to take a player off the roster to get back to 53.
Perhaps the biggest play in the game came on the final scoring drive.
With a third-and-12 from the Steelers 18 and trailing 14-13, Roethlisberger hit Brown over the middle for a 20-yard gain. From there, the Steelers drove to the Eagles 16 to set up Suisham's field goal.
The Eagles were in a zone defense on the play.
"It was the right call, 100 percent," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "We've done that throughout the game and throughout the year. You don't want to be in [man-to-man defense] in that situation."
And Asomugha, considered one of the top corners in the NFL, said he had a good idea who was going to get the ball.
"We know [Brown] is the guy they run everything for," he said. "Screens, short passes, over the middle, all of it. [Wallace] is more their straight down the field guy."
The Eagles are 3-2, but the combined total margin of victory in those wins is four points, so playing in tight games isn't new to them.
In Sunday's loss, they rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit and scored on a 17-play, 79-yard drive to take a 14-13 lead with 6:33 left in the game. But they couldn't stop the Steelers when they needed to on the final drive.
And part of the reason was they couldn't sack Roethlisberger.
"He just does a good job of moving around and keeping plays alive," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Most other quarterbacks would be down on those plays, but we knew he was going to do that."
The Eagles didn't have a sack, even though Roethlisberger was under steady pressure most of the time.
"We don't have to get sacks to get pressure," Ryans said. "But we've got to find a way to get some turnovers. We've got to pick it up. We've got to give our offense a short field sometimes."
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who played his collegiate days at Heinz Field as a member of the Pitt Panthers, had a solid day despite the loss.
McCoy rushed for 53 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
"We felt like we could drive on them, especially at the beginning of the game," McCoy said. "We just have too many turnovers and we've got to stop it. It's frustrating to lose this one. We should win that game."
The Eagles had two turnovers in the game, both in the first half, on fumbles by quarterback Michael Vick. The most devastating of those fumbles coming at the Steelers 1, when Vick was hit by Ryan Clark. Larry Foote recovered in the end zone for the Steelers.
Former Steelers Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler were honored at halftime. They were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. Dawson, a center, played for the Steelers from 1988-2000. Butler, a defensive back, played for the Steelers from 1951-59.
• Roethlisberger had his 25th career winning drive in the regular season and his first since Sept. 25, 2011. He was 4 for 5 on the final drive and improved to 14-1 against NFC opponents at Heinz Field.
• Mendenhall became the fifth Steeler to reach 30 rushing touchdowns. The others are: Franco Harris (91), Jerome Bettis (78), Kordell Stewart (35) and Terry Bradshaw (32).
• Tight end Heath Miller became the eighth player in franchise history to reach 4,000 career receiving yards. Miller has 356 career receptions and is three shy of passing Louis Lipps for third place in franchise history for receptions.
• Linebacker Larry Foote had two fumble recoveries and now has five for his career.
• Suisham is 8 for 8 on field goals this season and recorded his fifth winning kick and third as a member of the Steelers.
The Steelers deactivated QB Charlie Batch, DB Robert Golden, RB Jonathan Dwyer, LBs Adrian Robinson and Brandon Johnson, OL Kelvin Beachum and DL Alameda Ta'amu.
The Eagles deactivated QB Trent Edwards, WR Riley Cooper, RB Chris Polk, LB Akeem Jordan, OL Steve Vallos and Nate Menkin and DE Vince Curry.
Sports editor Jerry Micco and staff writer Ed Bouchette contributed. Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.