PITTSBURGH - Did anyone else hear that collective sigh of relief emanating from western Pennsylvania early Saturday night?
It's only the preseason, but the Steelers needed something to feel good about heading into the 2013 regular season. Their performance in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field was just what the doctor ordered.
"We did some nice things,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said at halftime. "We're [an Emmanuel Sanders] juggling catch away from it being a very productive half offensively.''
The Steelers looked good on offense and defense for the first time this exhibition season in breaking out to a 10-0 advantage before they started to resemble the team they were the first two games. By the time most of the 150-plus players dressed on both sidelines got their chances to show if they are NFL worthy, the Steelers ended up with a 26-20 loss in overtime.
The final result didn't matter. The fact that the Steelers controlled the game in the first quarter was a big boost of confidence because the starters won't see much action, if any, in the final preseason game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C. The regular season begins Sept. 8 at home against the Tennessee Titans.
The way things had gone so far this year with turnovers, penalties, injuries, missed assignments, etc. in lackluster losses to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, the Steelers didn't offer much hope of improving on last year's 8-8 season.
But the positives were evident in the first quarter Saturday:
* Defensive end Ziggy Hood stopped the Chiefs' first drive near midfield with a sack of quarterback Alex Smith on third and 7.
* Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked like the Big Ben of old, moving around in the pocket, eluding pass rushers and finding open receivers. His mobility allowed him to buy time and find running back Jonathan Dwyer on a 13-yard touchdown pass on third and goal.
* The Steelers found a solution to their shortage of tight ends by using no-tight end sets with tackle Kelvin Beachum serving as an extra lineman. And everyone thought offensive coordinator Todd Haley loved tight ends.
* Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones flashed his potential with a few big plays after entering the game for starter Jason Worilds on the second defensive series. He combined with Hood to stop Kansas City dynamic runner Jamaal Charles short of a first down on a fourth-and-1 gamble by Chiefs coach Andy Reid at his own 21.
Those were a few of the bright spots. But don't be buying any Super Bowl tickets, or any playoff tickets for that matter, yet. The Steelers are certainly a work in progress, with much progress still to be achieved.
The Steelers first-team offense had difficulty in finishing drives in the second quarter - although a beautifully thrown ball by Roethlisberger just missed being a touchdown when Sanders juggled it while falling across the goal line and out of bounds. The first-team defense gave up some big plays, including a 38-yard run by Smith, and made some costly penalties - Troy Polamalu's blow to Smith's head - that allowed the Chiefs to tie the game at 10-10 before halftime.
"We had a chance to play great defense,'' Tomlin said. "We didn't do it at the end of the half, and [the Chiefs] scored 10 points because of it.''
It looks like it's going to be a tough season. The Steelers don't have a team this year that will be prohibitive favorites in many games, and they can't afford to suffer many more injuries, especially to key people.
But for one night - OK, one quarter - the Steelers showed the potential, albeit in a preseason game, to be a team that could be in the running for a playoff berth in December.
Not many were feeling good about those chances this past week.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or email@example.com.