Two of their wins were against weaker teams Detroit and Cleveland, but the Steelers gave Minnesota its first loss Sunday, 27-17, and did it in typical Pittsburgh defensive style. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, looking like a Super Bowl highlight film of James Harrison, returned a Brett Favre fumble 77 yards for a touchdown, and linebacker Keyaron Fox returned a Favre interception 82 yards for a touchdown, both in the fourth quarter of the Steelers' victory.
Pittsburgh's defense has not been up to the dominant level of its 2008 version. The Steelers allowed two games to slip away in the fourth quarter in Chicago and Cincinnati and almost blew a 28-0 lead to San Diego in the fourth quarter before they won by 10.
"It's been awesome how fast that you forgot that this defense can actually play," safety Ryan Clark gently scolded the media. "It didn't take you long at all, either. We have pride. It's not ego, it's pride. And guys have character. We don't like coming into a game when you say it's going to be a shootout."
The defense was wounded early in the season when it lost Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu with a sprained MCL in the first quarter of the opener. He played in the past two games, but the Steelers also lost stud defensive tackle Aaron Smith for the season with a torn rotator cuff suffered Oct. 11 against Detroit.
Sunday against Minnesota, two more starters limped off for who knows how long. Defensive end Travis Kirschke left with what looked like a serious calf injury and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons left with his second sprained ankle of the season.
"We feel like we have a really good defense," said starting end Brett Keisel, who stripped Favre of the ball that Woodley returned for the score. "It was a great test for us to go against a good offensive line, a great quarterback, a great running back. It was a big test for us and we answered the call."
A similar call will come Nov. 9 in Denver. The Broncos will stay unbeaten if they can defeat the Ravens this Sunday. It would be reminiscent of the 2004 Steelers team that, at midseason, won consecutive games against two unbeaten teams, Philadelphia and New England.
"We're going to enjoy the bye," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Some much-needed rest for us and then we're going to prepare for Denver. I tend not to watch the standings when we win, only when we lose."
He hasn't had to look at them for more than a month now.
TRENDING: Rashard Mendenhall has lost two fumbles in scoring territory the past two games and was benched in the fourth quarter of both because of it. He lost one at the 4-yard line vs. Minnesota, a week after losing one at the 15 vs. Cleveland.
LINEUP WATCH: DE Travis Kirschke left Sunday's game with a bad left calf injury. He replaced Aaron Smith, who's on IR; Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood may have to replace Kirschke as they dig deep into their depth chart at end.