BIGGEST SURPRISE -- Maurkice Pouncey having a Pro Bowl season at center: I had Pouncey ticketed to start at right guard seconds after his name had been called on draft day, but I thought the only way he'd be attending the Pro Bowl as a rookie would be if he bought a ticket.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT -- The end of the first Baltimore game: The Steelers were on the verge of going 4-0 without Ben Roethlisberger. Then they couldn't get a first down inside the two-minute warning, couldn't do better than a 37-yard net on a punt from their 3-yard line and couldn't keep the hated Ravens out of the end zone.
TURNING POINT -- Achieving a 3-1 record minus Roethlisberger: Without that, winning at Cincinnati and winning at Baltimore wouldn't have been nearly as significant. And had they started, say, 1-3, the perceived officiating conspiracy might have defeated them.
PLAYER WHO IS BETTER THAN ADVERTISED -- LaMarr Woodley: He's been perceived as the Mike Wallace of the LBs, a one-trick pony whose trick is to sack the quarterback. This season Woodley provided so much more than that. With all due respect to James Harrison and James Farrior, Woodley is the Steelers' best linebacker.
PLAYER WHO LEAVES YOU WANTING MORE -- Chris Kemoeatu: Will he ever really get it? Kemoeatu has Pro Bowl potential but continues to be plagued by inconsistencies in his game.
FAVORITE PLAY -- First-and-10 from the 50, 12:36 left in overtime, Sept. 12 vs. Atlanta: The Steelers had tried, tried again with "22 Double," a Rashard Mendenhall run they'd dialed up repeatedly, and by repeatedly I mean double-digit attempts. This time they got the blocking fits just right and Mendenhall broke it for a 50-yard touchdown.
At that point offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did not proclaim, "I got your re-emphasis on and re-dedication to the running game right here." But he could have.
PLAY YOU'D LIKE TO HAVE BACK -- Second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 41 with 6:37 left in the fourth quarter, Oct. 31 at New Orleans: The Steelers had crawled back from a 13-3 deficit to within 13-10 and were moving again. Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a big gain, but Miller fumbled at the Saints' 34 and, well, you know the rest. The Steelers could run that same play double-digit times consecutively and Miller wouldn't fumble.
MOST CONFIDENCE-INSPIRING ASPECT OF THE TEAM HEADING INTO THE POSTSEASON -- Roethlisberger's presence at quarterback: He said this week he's playing "maybe the smartest football" of his career. That'll give the Steelers a legitimate chance along a road that might have to go through Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in pursuit of the franchise's seventh Lombardi.
MOST CONCERNING ASPECT OF THE TEAM HEADING INTO THE POSTSEASON -- That Troy Polamalu might get hurt again.
SECRET WEAPON -- Preparation and focus: Mike Tomlin and his staff have had the team ready to go at every critical juncture, and that includes season-ending games against Carolina and at Cleveland, games the Steelers knew they were supposed to win. They didn't sleepwalk through either one.
PLAYER/POSITION/ASPECT OF THE TEAM THEY'LL HAVE TO WORK AROUND -- Games in the 20s: The defense maintains it can stop anybody. But in reality the Steelers can't count on winning traditional, postseason tugs of war in the teens against the likes of Manning, Brady, Drew Brees, Rodgers or Michael Vick.
FAVORITE STAT -- Opponents averaging 62.8 yards per game against the Steelers on the ground: Thou shall not run.
ALARMING STAT -- The Steelers scored touchdowns on 48 percent of their 50 red-zone penetrations: The Colts scored TDs at a 67.9-percent clip in the red zone and the Patriots at 62.7. Gotta get much better at that fast.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN -- Santonio Holmes: We can say "Santonio Who?" already. But we can't really mean it until Mike Wallace becomes a Super Bowl MVP.
GONE AND QUICKLY FORGOTTEN -- Jeff Reed: Shaun Suisham has seen to that. Remember when the decision to cut Reed was actually debated? Me neither.
UNSUNG HERO -- Flozell Adams: The offensive line is better, mostly because of Pouncey but also because of Adams. If Willie Colon returns next season it should be as a guard, a position he probably should have been playing all along.