Players hooted and hollered as they came off the field, dancing their way into the locker room.
The Steelers knew they had accomplished something big in knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals, 33-20, here at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday.
There would be no crowning of a new AFC North champion – at least not this week.
The Bengals – or at least linebacker Vontaze Burfict - thought they would set the tone for the game by stepping over the 50-yard line and staring down the Steelers during pre-game warmups.
A baseball fight-type scrum ensued. But the Steelers didn’t need a wakeup call to be ready for this one. The tone had already been set.
“The tone was set when we got off the plane, when we arrived in Cincinnati,” said linebacker Vince Williams. “We wanted to get out of here and get this W.”
The Steelers weren’t going to be intimidated by a little extra talk and some pushing and shoving.
“You can’t intimidate us,” said defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who ended Cincinnati’s first drive with an interception that might also have ended the Bengals’ season when quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb trying to tackle him.
“We’re the ones who do the intimidation.”
In this game, Cincinnati talked the talk, but the Bengals couldn’t walk the walk.
“We stayed the course,” said guard Ramon Foster. “That talking is when guys are trying to mask their fears. Our football is our football. We can’t worry about how they’re going to act or what they’re going to say.”
@ Tuitt didn’t play in the first game between the Steelers and Bengals, a 16-10, Cincinnati victory, one of two games he missed this season. Pittsburgh lost both games he didn’t play.
Sunday’s win improved their record with Tuitt in the lineup to 8-3.
And no play was bigger than his interception on a screen pass on Cincinnati’s opening possession.
With the Steelers leading 7-0, the Bengals quickly drove to the Pittsburgh 4 and appeared ready to tie the score.
But the 6-6, 303-pound Tuitt recognized a screen play he had seen on film during the week and dropped into the passing lane rather than continue his rush to the outside as had been drawn up.
“I just reacted to what I saw during the week,” said Tuitt. “I ended up making the play. I was trying to run off and make a touchdown.”
And that’s when things really went awry for the Bengals. Dalton tried to make the tackle on Tuitt and his thumb slammed into the big man’s shin. Dalton suffered a fractured thumb and the Bengals suffered a loss they couldn’t overcome – at least not this week.
The Steelers, meanwhile, seem to be peaking at the right moment.
And they weren’t afraid to call this their biggest win of the season.
“I’d say so,” said guard David DeCastro. “You don’t want to focus on it, but at the end of the day, it’s a huge one. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not.
“I just think this team is playing really well. If we can stay healthy with no more crazy injuries, we’re going in the right direction. We’re going up.”
@ Three weeks ago, this stretch of three games against Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Denver next week was looked at as a make-or-break point of the season.
The early returns are looking pretty good.
Realistically, Pittsburgh needed to win two of the three games to have a shot at making the postseason. After Sunday’s win, their playoff odds – figured out by people with too much time on their hands – rose to 77 percent.
And that’s before they step onto the field with the Broncos.
It’s tough not to look at the standings and check out the different scenarios, but that’s what the players are trying to do.
“Our goal is making the playoffs, so you don’t want to focus on that, but it is hard,” Tuitt admitted. “We just beat a very good Cincinnati Bengals team that was No. 1 in the AFC. Our next opponent is No. 2 in the AFC, the Denver Broncos. That’s our goal, to take these one game at a time.”
If the postseason was seeded on how teams are currently performing, the Steelers might be No. 1.
@ Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had the line of the day when talking about the pre-game theatrics that took place.
“I was looking for (Andy) Dalton to see if he wanted to go or not,” said Roethlisberger with a laugh.
When asked if he found him, Roethlisberger replied, “No. We said it would have been really funny if – Andy and I get along – it would have been funny if we had had something planned where we were rolling around like we were fighting.”