It was not the prettiest Pittsburgh Steelers win on Sunday.
The offense took two quarters to find rhythm. Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown had a career day against their secondary. Starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a torn ACL, though his replacement Alejandro Villanueva had an impressive debut.
But they got the job done. And it was a complete team effort in their 25-13 win.
They weren’t supposed to win this game. Their offense was supposed to have been shut down by one of the National Football League’s stingiest defenses. The Steelers’ defense wasn’t supposed to keep up with the top scoring offense in the NFL.
But they did.
Quarterback Landry Jones, considered by some as one of the worst Steelers’ draft picks of all time, went under center for the first time in his NFL career and turned haters into believers. He was cool and calm with the ball in his hands; if he was nervous, he hid it well. He wasn’t afraid to throw the ball downfield, and threw a back shoulder dime to Antonio Brown, who worked his way back into the offense when Jones went in, for a 23-yard connection. His first touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant was perfectly located in a spot that only Bryant could get to.
When Mike Vick was under center, the Steelers had trouble sustaining drives. Jones led a seven-play and 13-play drive after Vick left the game with a hamstring injury, both ended with a field goal.
Speaking of Bryant, he did not take long to make his presence felt in his first game this season. His eight-yard leaping touchdown catch in the back of the end zone was a thing of athletic beauty. His 88-yard catch and run touchdown made the Cardinals’ secondary look silly. Bryant outran cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the best and fastest cornerbacks in the NFL, on the score. He adds another dimension to an offense with plenty of playmakers already.
And while we are on the subject of new offensive weapons, how much of a relief was it to have a reliable kicker lining up for field goals? It is early, but Chris Boswell is off to a great start in his Steelers’ career, making all four field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder. Could he be the next Jeff Reed, a guy who was also signed out of nowhere?
Boswell was not the only special teamer to put on a good performance. Punter Jordan Berry boomed a 79-yard punt, and landed another inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line. The kick coverage unit is also keeping up their strong season.
The Steelers’ defense did bend in giving up 469 total yards. But after an early score, they held the NFL’s top scoring offense out of the end zone. A defense plagued by missed tackles all season held the NFL’s top rushing offense coming into the week to 2.8 yards per carry and did not give up many yards after the catch.
And on top of it all they beat former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and it is tough to imagine that current offensive coordinator Todd Haley and head coach Mike Tomlin did not feel good about that.
So what does it all mean?
It means the Steelers can still look ugly at times, down to their third-string quarterback and still beat one of the NFL’s best teams. It means the defense rose to the occasion when they needed to the most. It means the offense may finally be getting back on track without Ben Roethlisberger; who would have thought Landry Jones would have inspired confidence that the Steelers’ offense will be okay if he has to started in Kansas City next week? It means the revolving door of kickers and punters might finally be stopping.
And above all, it means they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender when Roethlisberger returns.
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