In their 43-14 demolition of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers played like they had something to prove.
"I wouldn't use the word prove," said Vince Williams. "But we definitely knew we could play better and that we had to come out and play better and that we couldn't have a bad performance at home."
Not after the previous week's debacle in Philadelphia.
No, this week the Steelers circled the proverbial wagons, and after an angry week of practice they played an angry game of football and then walked around the locker room as if they were still, well, angry.
"We left a lot of plays out there," Arthur Moats said in all earnestness. "At the end of the day that's what we're still upset about."
After forcing two early turnovers to set up two early touchdowns, racing to an 36-0 lead and sacking Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith four times, the Steelers felt like they could've played better?
"You've got to keep it going," Moats said. "You can't be complacent. We've got 24 hours, so we'll be excited about it. I guess. I mean, we won. But it's one of those things. We know what we're capable of, so any time you get the scoreboard like that, cool. But we know we could've played better."
If they say so.
But the defense played about as well as most should expect, and it did so from the get-go.
Cameron Heyward notched his first sack of the season on the first series and Stephon Tuitt forced a fumble on the second. Ross Cockrell recovered at the Kansas City 32 to set up Ben Roethlisberger's 31-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey to set up an 8-0 lead.
On the Steelers’ next defensive series, Heyward on one play chipped a running back, fought off an offensive lineman and deflected a pass in the air that was intercepted by Jarvis Jones and returned to the Kansas City 4. Roethlisberger then threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.
More pressure from the front four came the next series, this time from James Harrison, and it caused Smith to throw incomplete on third down, and a third Roethlisberger touchdown pass followed.
By the end of the first quarter, the rout was on. And by halftime the Steelers led 29-0, and 36-0 by the end of the three quarters.
Two late scores by the Chiefs probably brought out the frowns in the locker room, but four sacks – three by Heyward – got the defensive front off the long, three-week question about pass pressure.
"For just this week," said Heyward, who obviously wasn't in the mood to celebrate either.
"I thought everybody got pressure," he said. "I might've got three (sacks) but it wasn't just because of me. Tuitt had some really nice pressures. I just cleaned up the trash."
Heyward felt the key to the defensive performance was "stopping the run early."
But did anger from last week's debacle play a part in the emotional approach?
"I always play angry," Heyward said with a rare smile. "I can't help that."
In that regard, Heyward sounded like Williams, the replacement for Ryan Shazier who led all defenders with a whopping 15 tackles.
"We try to play angry every week," Williams said. But he was happy about one thing:
"I love sending Steeler Nation into work on Monday with something to brag about," he said.
Last Monday wasn't quite the happy time for those workers, and of course it was much worse for the players. But Heyward has a message for anyone who thinks this week will be easier for them.
"It's going to be tougher this week because we don't want to rest on our laurels," he said. "I think when it comes down to it, it's easier to respond from a loss than a win. We got shut up last week. We all had to look in the mirror. That's easy to do, and to hunker down, but now it's time to stay focused and move on."
(For Jim Wexell's thoughts on the game and the Steelers, click here for the South Side message board.)null