In the span of about four hours Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers went from being a team on life support to one that finds itself not only alive, but remarkably so.
Not only did the Steelers win convincingly against the Kansas City Chiefs, 45-7, here at Heinz Field, but the two teams they are chasing in the AFC North standings, Cincinnati and Baltimore, looked sloppy in losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina earlier in the afternoon.
Delay that phone call to Dr. Kevorkian.
"We talked about it in the morning, I told them just to go out there and play and if they win this game, there would be a chance we'd end up being one game out," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "There's so much football left to be played. People were giving us a eulogy and writing our epitaph this whole week."
As things turned out, the Steelers are not just alive, but surprisingly so. They didn't just beat the Chiefs as much as they dismantled them.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suddenly regained his magic touch, completing 16 of 19 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. The running backs found seam after seam as Willie Parker carried 21 times for 109 yards and backup Najeh Davenport had 78 yards on 12 attempts. Receivers were running open all over the field. And the defense was stifling.
Cowher had said earlier in the week that the Steelers just needed a victory to help correct what was ailing them. But that wasn't necessarily true.
Had the team come out and slogged through Sunday's game against Kansas City, barely coming away with a win, many of the questions that had dogged it through the first four games would still have been there. But coming out and dominating the Chiefs in the manner they did should serve notice that the Steelers are still a team to be reckoned with.
"We really needed a win like this," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We needed this to be able to get confidence back in the locker room, confidence in ourselves that we can play a full game. It wasn't a perfect game. There are some things we still need to clean up to be a full 60-minute team, but for the most part, it was a well-played game in all three phases."
And make no mistake about it, even though the Steelers won a Super Bowl about nine months ago, losing three consecutive games and starting the season 1-3 had shaken not only the confidence of the fans in this team, but the players' confidence in themselves as well.
"Any time you lose three games in a row like that, you're going to start questioning things a little bit," admitted Keisel. "But we also knew that it's a long season and we weren't done yet."
Apparently not by a long shot.
Now, the onus will be for the Steelers to go out and put together a solid performance again next week at Atlanta and prove that this wasn't a one-game aberration, that the stars hadn't aligned for this one afternoon.
"We still have a long way to go," said Cowher. "You don't just get there in one game."
You certainly don't.
But for at least one day, the Steelers looked like the defending Super Bowl champions that they are.
© The question was asked following the game, "How did the receivers get so open all day?"
It was a good question to be sure and one Cowher really didn't answer.
Is it possible that the Kansas City defense just isn't that good? Yep.
© How about those replacements?
Chris Kemoeatu wasn't all that noticeable on too many plays starting in place of Kendall Simmons, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. His best stat? The Steelers rushed for 219 yards and Roethlisberger was sacked once.
I don't know how Kemoeatu will grade out, but it couldn't have been bad. He was at least Simmons' equal.
Arnold Harrison? Well, he truly was the best Arnold Harrison he could be starting in place of Joey Porter. Harrison finished with three tackles and a pass defensed, which is often a typical outing for Porter. Again, the biggest stat in favor of Harrison was the production of the running game, this time Kansas City's. The Chiefs managed just 38 yards on 19 carries, so Harrison couldn't have been too bad.
You don't replace Porter with Harrison, but it certainly goes a long way toward showing why the Steelers weren't real hot to re-work Porter's contract.
Deshea Townsend showed why he's still starting ahead of Bryant McFadden. Townsend surprisingly played in the nickel and defended two passes with three tackles, including one that was in the open field on third down against Larry Johnson.
McFadden, meanwhile, was OK. He had three tackles, two pass defenses and an interception, but also drew a pass interference penalty. McFadden will be fine down the road, but Townsend is still too cagey a veteran to replace.
© Anybody who suggested that Troy Polamalu needed to sit out some games until he was healthy should feel pretty silly right now.
Polamalu was, quite simply, one of the top two players on the field Sunday. The other player? Roethlisberger. And yet some people were suggesting he needed to sit as well.
Take a deep breath, people, and think about things clearly before you say or write them.
© The Steelers got their hands on 13 passes, coming away with three interceptions. They had just one sack, but Keisel told me after the game that their scheme was to just rush four players on most plays because they knew Damon Huard was going to get rid of the ball quickly. Plus, they didn't want Johnson sneaking through a blitz and running free in the secondary against defensive backs.
Neither was a problem. Huard never hurt the Steelers, while Johnson's long run was eight yards.
© Santonio Holmes did a nice job in the return game, but still had some ball-control issues. His first fumble on a punt return came when a Chiefs defender flashed by him at the last second, causing him to miss the ball. The second was a straight fumble as the ball was ripped free from his hands.
Sometimes, however, the ball just bounces your way. It was that kind of day for the Steelers.
© Najeh Davenport claims he was gassed from being on the punt return unit the play before his 48-yard run on which he was run down from behind by Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen.
OK, I'll buy that. Davenport was playing over the center on punts and didn't look out of place. That should give you an idea of how big he is.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.