PITTSBURGH - Putting aside the silly throwback uniforms on loan from Ringling Brothers, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked mighty good on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Their 27-12 handling of the Washington Redskins was clean and efficient with a lot to like.
Start with no sacks and no turnovers. Add in an efficient ground game that led to another edge in time of possession. Don't discount a significant reduction in penalties for a team that had previously turned just about every game into flag day.
Steelers receiver Mike Wallace holds onto the ball among an array of Redskins defenders.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
The Steelers kept rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III under control (aided by a corps of Washington receivers who couldn't hang onto the ball), and they broke the six-week pattern of alternating wins and losses.
They'll take a modest two-game winning streak into this Sunday's match-up against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at the Meadowlands.
"We're going in the right direction," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "We stopped digging a hole for ourselves. Now we can start laying a foundation."
A victory over the Giants would be an important step. The next stretch of schedule is an interesting mix of tough and seemingly easy opponents. After New York, the Steelers are home for a Monday night game against Kansas City.
They'll follow that with a Sunday night home game against Baltimore. Then it's the annual trip to Cleveland before the rematch against the Ravens on the road.
A formula similar to the one they used on Sunday would work just fine for all of those games. Be efficient, avoid mistakes and don't let an opponent get up off the mat once he's been knocked down.
"Good win for us in all three phases," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Very necessary."
The Steelers are still finding out about themselves. There are new faces in the lineup on both sides of the ball, and the transition has sometimes been as choppy as their 4-3 record suggests.
One of the positive developments of the past two weeks is the return of the running game. Jonathan Dwyer carried 17 times for 107 yards, making him the first Steelers running back since Willie Parker in 2008 to have consecutive 100-yard games.
Part of that is the shift to more passing, but the ground game had not been efficient through the first five games this season as well.
To borrow Tomlin's phrase, it was very necessary on Sunday. The Steelers were sitting on a lead, looking to consume the clock and play it safe on a turf made tricky by rain that fell through much of the game.
Asked specifically about the offensive line, Tomlin pulled a swerve and instead answered, "I think we have improved as a football team, and that's what this journey that is a football season is about. You'd better find ways to win along the way. We hadn't done enough of that to this point, but I like the direction which we're headed."
Really, aside from the concussion that knocked safety Ryan Clark out of the game early in the second half, it was all good news for the Steelers.
And it gets even better: Those hideous uniforms are back in storage until the home game against Baltimore. That will be the only other times they're worn this season.
"I love them if we play like that in them," was Tomlin's bottom line.
Easy for him to say. He got to wear his usual plain gray sweatshirt.
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