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The Steelers performance under pressure was even better than you may have thought last year

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In 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of ups and downs. But there was one constant throughout the season: when all the bets were placed, and it became “now or never”, they weren’t good — they were great.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

Championship-caliber teams finish well, and play well in crunch time. Considering the Steelers’ offense has likely improved since the end of last season -- with a soon-to-be healthy Le’Veon Bell and the re-introduction of Martavis Bryant to the lineup — then some key situational stats point to more success for Pittsburgh in 2017.

Despite struggling at times, especially in road games, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed his high-pressure mastery once again last season, and it may have been his best no-more-do-overs performance yet.

How good was he?

When trailing with less than four minutes remaining, Roethlisberger was 29 of 39, for 360 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s good for a rating of 128.2. When it got down to inside two minutes, he picked it up another notch: all three of the aforementioned touchdowns occurred inside the final two minutes, and his rating jumped to 144.0.

It wasn’t just limited to late-game efforts, either. On manageable third- (under 10 yards to go) and fourth-down (under five yards to go) plays, Roethlisberger was nothing short of phenomenal. On manageable third downs, his rating was 113.3, and included 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions. On fourth down, he was a perfect six for six for 95 yards and two touchdowns. It should be noted that the touchdowns came on plays of 23 and 29 yards, and his six completions were spread among four different receivers.

Roethlisberger wasn’t the only one who showed these sorts of heroics, either. While his struggles on the road have been noted, the team had a 5-3 record away from Heinz Field, largely due to their ability to run at will. In fact, the running game averaged a full yard more per carry on the road than they did it home, with the bulk of that coming in the second half of the season when the team closed things out with seven consecutive wins, four of which came when the Steelers were the visiting team.

We’ve known for a long time that Roethlisberger simply operates well under pressure. We saw it in his rookie season, including a 10-point, fourth-quarter comeback against the Dallas Cowboys. We saw it a year later, on plays like his season-saving tackle fallowing Jerome Bettis’ highly unlikely goalline fumble in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game. We saw — oh, did we ever see it — in Super Bowl XLIII, when the team fell behind with less than two minutes remaining. A cool, calm and collected Roethlisberger simply told the ball boy, “get me my hat,” and proceeded to will the team to victory, punctuated by a picture-perfect sideline throw in the end zone and Santonio Holmes’ to-tapping catch for the win. We saw him with a similar throw and catch to Mike Wallace as time expired against the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 regular season. The examples are too numerous to name them all — even to name half of them.

We’ve also known for a while how special Bell is. He takes over games, and has become the unquestioned focal point of one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. If you have any doubt how effectively he can demoralize an opponent, almost by himself, just ask anyone who tried to play defense for the Buffalo Bills on December 11, 2016.

These numbers should come as no surprise. But they point to the potential for even more greatness in 2017 — and, maybe, that so-far elusive seventh Lombardi Trophy.