At 4-6, Steelers hardly out of playoff hunt
PITTSBURGH – The math is tantalizing.
The schedule is favorable.
The middle of the AFC is a mess.
Suddenly, things are looking up for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Consecutive wins over Buffalo and Detroit have Pittsburgh (4-6) in position to play meaningful football into December if not January.
“We feel like we have a good team, but when we mention those things, people say ‘Your record says you’re not,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “We’ve just got to continue to fight this thing out and see what happens. We have to keep it going.”
Cotchery allows his team’s margin for error is “nonexistent,” though the final six weeks hardly look intimidating.
Starting with Sunday’s game at Cleveland (4-6), the Steelers face just one team with a winning record the rest of the way. And even that Dec. 15 showdown with AFC North-leading Cincinnati is at Heinz Field.
The other five games include two against the Browns, a Thanksgiving night matchup at struggling Baltimore (4-6) and a visit by the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 8.
What was billed as the return of former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace could take a backseat to something considerably more substantial.
Miami and the New York Jets are tied for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot at 5-5. Pittsburgh already owns the tiebreaker over the Jets after picking up a victory on the road last month.
It’s not much hope to cling to, but it beats the alternative. The Steelers were reading the obituary on their season after a humbling 55-31 loss to New England dropped them to 2-6 at the midway point and 15th in the 16-team AFC.
Two promising weeks later, they’re 10th with plenty of time left.
The crossroads may have come in the fourth quarter against Detroit. The Lions had just botched a fake field goal attempt but pinned the Steelers at their own 3 early in the fourth quarter.
Facing third-and-9, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 16-yard gain. The drive ended in a touchdown and Pittsburgh was on its way to its most significant victory of the season.
“I don’t know if it’s a turning point, but hopefully we can look back in 3-4 months and say it was,” tight end Heath Miller said.
This isn’t the first time this fall Pittsburgh appeared poised to break out of a rut. The Steelers beat the Jets and the Ravens after an 0-4 start and spark belief that better days were ahead.
Pittsburgh then went out and bumbled its way to a 21-18 loss to Oakland before Tom Brady picked the Steelers apart and sent the franchise into full-blown crisis mode.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau talked about going back to “page one” in the playbook after giving up 610 yards to the Patriots. He vowed to simplify things and his defense has responded with a pair of solid performances.