For one night, Pittsburgh gives fans look at days gone by

PITTSBURGH – The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are not losers. Not yet, anyway.

They salvaged their chance for a .500 season with Sunday night’s 30-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 65,000-seat walk-in freezer disguised as Heinz Field.

The game was played before 45,873 fans, the lowest attendance for a game in the 13 seasons in the stadium. That gave “bitter cold” a subtle dual meaning.

Things went so well for the Steelers under miserable conditions that it made you wonder where that kind of play was when the weather was more manageable in September and October.

But those kinds of regrets are natural when the last games of the season carry little meaning.

The answer is to live in the moment, which was an acceptable proposition on Sunday night, and to not lose sight of the big picture, which is figuring out how to fix what’s wrong with this team.

NBC must have had some regrets about not using their schedule-changing flex privilege to get another game. But if any viewer was unfamiliar with these two teams, he may have thought the dynamic was the one that had existed in recent history: The Steelers were good, and the Bengals appeared to be clueless.

Facts are the Bengals came in 9-4 and atop the AFC North, while the Steelers were 5-8 and needed to borrow a powerful microscope from the neighboring Carnegie Science Center to see their playoff chances.

The first series set a tone. The Bengals gained nine yards on their first play from scrimmage, but could manage just 18 inches on their next two tries.

That led to a punt that went awry when the snap got caught in the breeze and knuckleballed away from punter Kevin Huber.

He recovered, and seemed to make the most of a bad situation by being tackled for safety.

But referee Ed Hochuli and his crew determined that the Steelers should actually get the ball at the 1-yard line. That set the Steelers up for the Le’Veon Bell slam-in touchdown and seven points instead of two.

Things took a turn for the weird when the Bengals had a kickoff return negated when officials determined that Cedric Peerman had actually called for a fair catch before he took off and ran the ball to midfield.

Instead of having the ball at the 46, the Bengals started at the 9.

Since a fair catch would make no sense, the presumption was that Peerman was signaling his return partner that he would take the ball. Or perhaps he was just trying to regain some feeling in his extremities.

Cincinnati narrowed the gap in the second half, but the Steelers had built enough of a lead to withstand that rally. On a night like this, insulation was vital in many different ways.

Maybe the mojo was helped by the presence of the Steelerettes, members of the cheerleading squad that worked the sidelines at Pitt Stadium and Forbes Field from 1961-69.

The Steelers got out of the cheerleading business before it became an ancillary industry in the NFL. It would have been a difficult transition anyway, since the Steelerettes were traditional sis-boom-bah cheerleaders in poodle skirts and bobby sox, a far cry from the flamboyant big-hair style popularized by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

It was a solid night in all phases for the Steelers. The takeaway from this – aside from Googling “frostbite” – was the way the Steelers approached the game. They showed no apathy, and that’s something considering where the Steelers are.

The Bengals, for all their flubs, will be in the playoffs, and the Steelers will be watching on TV.

For one night, though, the Steelers looked like the team they used to be.

(Mehno can be reached at: