He mentioned afterward that he had been attempting to throw it out of bounds to keep away from being sacked, however the ball by no means bought there. Each of his receivers close by, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, converged. However so did Haden, who skied above them to seize it and elegantly landed each toes in bounds as Gronkowski crushed him within the ribs.

“As quickly as I caught it,” Haden mentioned, “I felt like my legs went numb.”

After the play that saved their season, the Steelers’ protection sprinted to the again of the tip zone and assembled as if for a category . Amid the din at Heinz Area, some gamers flexed, and others simply stood there beaming, nodding, bouncing, celebrating the way in which they did right here again in November, after they throttled Carolina by 31 factors on nationwide tv.

At one level, the Steelers had been 7-2-1, thriving with out the star operating again Le’Veon Bell, who was holding out for a brand new contract, and with James Conner, the second-year backup who ranks among the many N.F.L. leaders in dashing yards and touchdowns. Then got here the late meltdown in Denver, which preceded the late meltdown in opposition to the Los Angeles Chargers, which preceded the late meltdown at Oakland, which preceded per week of — what’s the phrase right here? — unease. The Steelers, in any case, haven’t missed the playoffs since 2013.

“I wouldn’t say we had been at a crossroad, however there was sink or swim, no matter you need to name it,” mentioned Roethlisberger, who threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. “Some choices wanted to be made. Are we going to step up and play and are available collectively as a staff? Are we going to form of divide one another? What’s going to occur? No person is aware of.”

By kickoff, the Steelers did know that it wanted to win not solely to stay forward of its A.F.C. North rival Baltimore, which defeated Tampa Bay for its fourth victory in 5 video games, but additionally to remain within the playoff image altogether. A Steelers loss would have elevated the Ravens into first place and the surging Colts to the No. 6 seed.

“Anybody’s beatable each week,” mentioned Heyward, when requested to evaluate the state of a convention the place the highest two groups coming into the week, Kansas Metropolis and New England, misplaced. “You simply must be able to play. We haven’t completed some video games prior to now, and right this moment we did. It goes from week to week.”

Certainly it does.

Final week, the Raiders’ tight ends shredded Pittsburgh for 148 yards and two touchdowns. This week, the Steelers restricted Gronkowski, who appears to embarrass them yearly, to 2 catches for 21 yards. Final week, Derek Carr foiled the Steelers with a late scoring go. This week, they thwarted their chief tormentor, Brady, denying him one other fourth-quarter comeback.

Subsequent week, the Steelers go to New Orleans, probably with Conner getting back from a two-week harm absence. The Saints are one of many N.F.L.’s finest groups. They’ve proved as a lot all season. The Steelers haven’t. However right here they’re, anyway. Underestimate — or overrate — them at your peril.


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