PITTSBURGH — For three frigid hours Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like the team cornerback Ike Taylor thought it would be all along.
Explosive plays on special teams. An effective if at times unspectacular offense. A defense that kept the dynamic Cincinnati Bengals under wraps until the game had all but been decided.
Watching how easily the Steelers whipped the Bengals 30-20, Taylor understands the inclination to look around and wonder why this didn’t happen three months ago. Pittsburgh labored through a winless September that doomed its postseason chances.
Taylor just doesn’t buy into wondering “what if.” He’s been around too long. The Steelers earned all eight of their losses just like they earned all six of their wins.
“Ain’t no woulda, couldas,” Taylor said. “This year, for the most part in a few words we’ve been consistently inconsistent. When you play in the NFL you’ve got to be consistent.”
A concept Pittsburgh has been unable to grasp. The Steelers looked very much primed for a January run when they humbled the surging Bengals (9-5).
Yet it came just a week after the Steelers let the Miami Dolphins frolic in the snow in a 34-28 victory that all but mathematically eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs.
“The one thing you know is they don’t let you play it over again,” safety Ryan Clark said. “You don’t get the Tennessee Titans game back, you don’t get the Oakland Raiders game back.”
Slow starts have been an issue all fall for Pittsburgh, which entered Sunday being outscored 77-43 in the first quarter. The Steelers narrowed the deficit considerably with an overwhelming 15 minutes that hardly made it seem like they were counting the days until the offseason begins.
“Getting ahead 21-0, we were kind of able to take them out of their game plan,” Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds said. “Every time we come out, we want to set the pace.”
That’s something the Steelers have started to do with regularity over the last two months. Pittsburgh is 6-4 in its past 10 games and appears to be improving as the weeks pass. Considering where the team started from 15 weeks ago, that’s not exactly a compliment.
Yet it is a testament to a group that has refused to wave the white flag.
“We’re just trying to win games and show people that the guys on this team ... want to play,” Clark said. “They have a lot of fight left in them.”