Fourth & Goal:

Mike Prisuta stood outside the Denver locker room as Mike Tomlin congratulated, cajoled, and then challenged his players.

DENVER -- Ryan Clark bounded into the Steelers' locker room after the game as the emotion of the moment consumed him just enough that he forgot about his issues with exertion at altitude.

"I'm not playing any more the rest of the season," Clark announced. "They do not need me."

Soon thereafter Mike Tomlin posted up just outside the entrance, as is his habit, and continued coaching.

Tomlin congratulated "young guy" Mike Wallace and "old guy" Hines Ward. Tomlin reminded his passing players they had a "short week" to deal with next, and that "AFC North business" was once again at hand. And Tomlin asked a question and then answered it out aloud, a process he likely repeated minutes later after the locker room doors had closed.

"You know how many teams win after winning on the road on Monday night? Not many."

That'll be the next challenge for a team that has resumed embracing them.

The Steelers didn't just beat the Broncos on Monday night, they defied them. They threw at Champ Bailey and found repeated success. They emptied the backfield behind Ben Roethlisberger and dared Elvis Dumervil to make them pay. They even punted at Eddie Royal.

It took a while to get cranked up in the thin air, but once the Steelers' offense found its stride it turned the NFL's No. 1 defense into the No. 3 by the end of the game. And the Steelers' defense frazzled fraud quarterback Kyle Orton.

The Broncos showed no more interest in having Orton hold onto the ball long enough to throw it down the field than the Titans, Bears and Bengals had back in September. But this time the blitzes were much better timed and coordinated and the pressure got there. And the tackling of the catch after the inevitable slant or bubble screen was much more certain.

And this time the offense wasn't deterred by a critical mistake.

No, these Steelers are evolving, from William Gay to David Johnson to Keenan Lewis to Rashard Mendenhall to Wallace.

As that's been happening these Steelers have established, after disposing of the undefeated Vikings and the once-beaten Broncos in succession, that they still relish a challenge as much as ever. Against Denver it was the No. 1 defense that had to be overcome, the absence of three starters on the Steelers' defense, and a road venue infamous for, as linebackers coach Keith Butler so appropriately put it, "the atmosphere and the atmosphere."

Against the Bengals it'll be Carson Palmer, the win-after-winning-on-the-road-on-Monday-night thing, or, perhaps, the little matter of sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

Either way it's hard to imagine this team not being at its best in the Cincinnati rematch.

"We have guys that have a desire to be great," Tomlin said. And guys that are capable of greatness.

Tyrone Carter achieved that for a night in replacing Clark. Almost symbolically, Carter entered the visitor's locker room Monday night still clutching a football.

It was impossible to determine at that moment if it was the ball he had returned 48 yards for a touchdown after his first interception, or the one he had turned into the exclamation point that was his second.

The point is it could have been either one.


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