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Are the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Following in the Footsteps of Their Most Recent Championship Team?

The boos rained down at Heinz Field on Monday night.

Coming off an ugly road loss, the Pittsburgh Steelers were down by two scores and the season seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

Then No. 10 caught a touchdown pass to cut the Steelers’ deficit to a field goal and the Steelers took the lead in a matter of seconds with a stunning rally. Heinz Field rocked and the Steelers held on for a win that saved their season.

Hold on a minute. It’s too early to tell whether or not the Steelers’ 30-23 win over the Houston Texans on Monday night saved their season.

That’s right. It is. But we do know that the Steelers’ Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens saved their 2008 season. That’s the game we’re talking about.

The Steelers started that season 2-0, then Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in a 15-6 loss at Philadelphia. The following week on Monday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens led 13-3 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. With the crowd voicing its displeasure, the Steelers were in danger of falling to .500. Those were the days when .500 was rock-bottom for the Steelers rather than baseline.

A punt seemed imminent on third down when Santonio Holmes, who wore the No. 10 that Martavis Bryant wears now, caught a short pass from Roethlisberger and took it 38 yards for the touchdown to narrow the Ravens’ lead to 13-10.

On the next play, James Harrison sacked Joe Flacco and forced a fumble. LaMarr Woodley picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown and a 17-13 Steelers lead.

The Steelers scored 14 points in 13 seconds. They went on to win 23-20 in overtime and eventually won Super Bowl XLIII that year.

It’s no exaggeration to say that win saved the Steelers’ season. Without it, they wouldn’t have won the AFC North and they wouldn’t have benefited from a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage against the Ravens in the AFC championship game.

Instead of falling to 2-2, the Steelers won three straight to improve to 5-1 and finished 12-4.

Instead of falling to 3-4 in 2014, the Steelers scored 24 points in 2:54 and poked their head above .500.

Just like their outburst six years earlier, the offense provided the ignition and the defense seized the momentum by ripping the ball away from the opponent.

Can Monday’s win over the Texans do what that win over the Ravens did for the 2008 team?

The answer is no if the Steelers don’t at least split their next two games, and that won’t be easy.

The Indianapolis Colts (5-2) visit on Sunday. They’ve won five in a row and boast the NFL’s No. 1 offense and No. 3 defense. Andrew Luck leads the NFL with 333 passing yards per game and is second only to Peyton Manning with 19 touchdown passes. The Steelers haven’t faced a quarterback this good since Tom Brady last year, and we know how that went.

The Baltimore Ravens come to Heinz Field in Week 9, and two losses to Baltimore will make it awfully hard to win the AFC North.

If the Steelers lose both of those games, Monday night’s sudden turn of events will be nothing more than fool’s gold. But if they win at least one, then maybe just maybe …

The 2014 Steelers obviously don’t have the talent of the 2008 Steelers. The better a team is, the easier it is to start a winning streak.

Of the three players who jump-started the Steelers on that Monday night in 2008, only Harrison remains with the team. “Remains” isn’t even the best word in this case because Harrison already has retired once. Woodley and his fragile body are in Oakland. Holmes and his seven catches are in Chicago.

But the Steelers didn’t need Harrison to turn the game around against the Texans. Many of the central figures of Monday night’s uprising are players whose best days hopefully are ahead of them.

Le’Veon Bell set it all in motion with a 43-yard reception on third-and-10, which led to a field goal to put the Steelers on the board. Not only is Bell turning into the best Steelers running back since Jerome Bettis, he’s also the team’s No. 2 receiver with 36 catches. No Steeler before Bell, not even Franco Harris, has registered at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first seven games of a season. Bell showed Monday night that he can be a transcendent, game-changing talent.

That brings us to Bryant, who caught the first pass he saw in his career for a 35-yard touchdown. Drafted in the fourth round in May, Bryant already has had more impact from scrimmage than the Steelers’ last three fourth-round draft picks combined. That includes Alameda Ta’amu, Landry Jones and Shamarko Thomas.

The fumble that led to the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown was forced by Jason Worilds, who has just two sacks this season but was credited with seven quarterback hurries against the Texans by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Sean Spence recovered the fumble. When Ryan Shazier is healthy, he’ll regain his starting job at inside linebacker. But Spence should provide valuable depth.

Antonio Brown threw the go-ahead touchdown pass. The Steelers don’t need that to keep happening to get back to the playoffs, but look who was at the other end of that pass. Lance Moore is the only Steelers receiver besides Brown with more than one touchdown. He’s caught one in each of the last two games and has at least one catch in four straight games after getting off to a slow start with a groin injury. Two of Moore’s five receptions have been touchdowns. He’s showing preliminary signs that he can do for the Steelers what Jerricho Cotchery did last season.

If Bell, Bryant, Worilds, Spence and Moore can do more of what they did during those unforgettable three minutes of football, maybe it will be a turning point for the season.

Without Ben Roethlisberger, of course, none of it would have happened. He escaped pressure to throw the 43-yard pass to Bell and threw the TD pass to Bryant and another to Bell that made it 24-13.

It would be penny-stock speculation right now to say that Monday’s win can be a springboard to the Steelers’ seventh Super Bowl victory. But while a championship might not seem realistic right now, it’s possible as long as Roethlisberger is the Steelers’ quarterback. A lot of teams would love to have a quarterback like Roethlisberger for a decade. When Roethlisberger’s career in Pittsburgh ends, the Steelers could become one of those teams that goes through quarterbacks like scratch tickets.

The franchise has to operate with a championship in mind as long as Roethlisberger is around.

That’s why it’s understandable to hope that Monday’s scoring barrage turns into something much bigger.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

 

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