Two home games, two away games, and a win and a loss for each. A loss at 11-3 doesn't have quite the same feel as a loss at 7-7, though. And, not surprisingly, the arrow is not pointing up for the 7-8 team. But let's take a closer look at each game:
As the AP recap noted, the game was over when it started. The Pittsburgh defense, which had held opponents to 12 total points in the previous two games, held Cleveland to none at all. Cleveland's rookie quarterback was sacked eight times, as was a Browns fan who was foolish enough to venture onto the field. James Harrison was not amused. I, on the other hand, find it quite amusing. The video never gets old!
The offense played well too, especially in the first quarter. During the first quarter, Pittsburgh outgained Cleveland 196-1, passed for 162 yards compared to minus two yards for the Browns, and made nine first downs, compared to 0 for Cleveland. During the game Willie Parker picked up 130 yards and Jerome Bettis ran in a touchdown. Hines Ward caught the sole touchdown pass.
Ironically, despite their 10-5 record, the 2005 team still had to win their next game to clinch a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh went into the Titan's stadium 1-6 against the team, and left 1-7 against them. Kerry Collins also remained undefeated against the Steelers. The Titans improved to 13-2, holding the best record in the AFC, and clinching the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Titans, who considered they were building momentum with this win, let hubris get the better of them, as several players disrespected a Terrible Towel. Linebacker Keith Bulluck, who stamped on a towel at the end of the game, noted the victory "sets the tone for the playoffs in the AFC." Little did Bulluck know his team would not win another game until, after a streak of utter futility in 2009, he and fellow towel desecrator Lendale White autographed a towel and sent it to the Allegheny Valley School to be auctioned off for charity. (The Titans lost their Week 17 game to the Colts, 23-0, and lost to the Ravens in their first playoff game. That was also their last playoff game ever, at least until now. (They have a marginal chance to make the playoffs this season.)
The Steelers, meanwhile, turned the ball over four times, resulting in 21 Titans points. It wasn't all bad, though—James Harrison his 16th sack of the season, setting a Pittsburgh record.
After being embarrassed the previous week by the Jets, the Steelers made short work of dispatching a weak Panthers team. This win, combined with a win in Cleveland in Game 16, guaranteed the Steelers the AFC North title and a bye week. A badly needed bye week, as the team was pretty beat up.
The Steelers outgained the Panthers 408-119. The defense held running back Jonathan Stewart, who was averaging 115 yards in the previous four games, to 71 yards. (At this point the defense had allowed one 100-yard rusher in their previous 49 games.) The Panthers never scored until halfway through the fourth quarter.
This wasn't a big surprise, however. The Panthers were the NFL's only team to lose every road game in 2010. Carolina had lost their previous seven games vs. AFC teams, and the Steelers had beaten the Panthers in the previous three games, outscoring them 101-37. This brought the tally to 124-40.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was upset when they managed to move to the Pittsburgh 34 in their opening drive, only to have the punt team sent out on 4th and 6. Clausen noted after the game, "I thought offensively we came out fast, running the ball well, got a few first downs quick. And just from there, I don't know what happened." Whatever it was that happened, it resulted in them gaining zero net yards and not a single first down from the end of the first quarter until the final minute of the third.
Conversely, Rashard Mendenhall ran for 35 yards on Pittsburgh's first play from scrimmage, and although a Carolina challenge of a Sanders touchdown catch reversed the ruling, they never struggled to score. After only scoring four offensive touchdowns in the previous four games, the offense picked up three touchdowns in the game. Mike Wallace ended the game with four catches for 104 yards, earning his sixth 100-yard receiving game. This put him within one game of John Stallworth's team record. Mike Tomlin commented after the game, "I like where he is right now, but he is capable of more. There's more out there for him." I kind of feel like we're still waiting...