Win more important than style points
PITTSBURGH — The Steelers took a lot of mystery out of the bumpy playoff chase on Sunday.
They beat the New England Patriots 17-10 in front of a rocking crowd at Heinz Field and demonstrated how simple all the math can actually be.
Win and they’re in.
If they take care of their own business, they don’t have to worry about what anybody else is doing.
They played an efficient game against the Patriots just one week after they lost to the Oakland Raiders, who were 2-10 at the time.
They ended their three-game losing streak and improved to 8-5-1 with two games left. It wasn’t always pretty, but after losing to Oakland, style points didn’t matter. They needed to win the game, and they did.
Rookie Jaylen Edwards revived the running game with 142 yards, running with purpose. The Steelers distributed the ball in the passing game, even though principal threats Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster were virtually shut out in the second half.
They didn’t consistently make plays, but they made them at important times.
When Tom Brady tried to wing the ball out of bounds, cornerback Joe Haden leaped to make the interception and then stayed in bounds with the ball to snuff a Patriots’ red zone possession.
It was the Steelers’ only takeaway in the game, but it was huge.
The defensive coaches figured out a way to mostly neutralize super-sized tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has almost single-handedly beaten the Steelers in the past. Gronkowski was held to two catches.
There was only one sack of Brady, but the Steelers got pressure on him and forced him to move. The interception came when he was trying to escape heat in the pocket.
“They made a few more plays than we did,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick mumbled afterwards.
As good as the Patriots have been for a sustained time, they didn’t appear to be on top of their game Sunday. But that’s OK, because the Steelers have their problems, too.
One of them is being down to the third option at running back with Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season and James Conner sidelined with an ankle sprain. Samuels isn’t really the answer, but he was effective Sunday because of the holes the line opened and his determination to maximize every carry and catch.
James Washington, who has had a challenging rookie season, pitched in with a couple of big catches.
Beleaguered kicker Chris Boswell had a roller coaster ride, missing a 32-yard kick that left him visibly upset. But at a critical juncture, Boswell nailed a 48-yard attempt with room to spare.
Boswell’s woes haven’t been cured, but he made an important kick in a low-scoring game. That can only be good since the Steelers showed no interest in signing the two potential replacements they auditioned last week.
Ragged around the edges? Sure. Yet the outcome is what matters, and that went the way it needed to go.
“I wouldn’t say at a crossroad, but there was sink or swim, whatever you want to call it,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “Some decisions needed to be made. Are we going to step up and play and come together as a team? Are we going to kind of divide each other? What’s going to happen?
“Nobody knows, and this was going to be a great challenge for us at home against a team that is always one of the best. I thought guys answered the bell today.”
John Mehno can be reached at email@example.com