The Pittsburgh Steelers' loss to the New Orleans Saints was one which was disappointing but not fatal for the playoff hopes of players, coaches and fans.
For all the concerns of sportswriters and fans worried about speculation that the team might be overlooking opponents with losing records, no member of the organization has suggested that such a mentality exists in anyone who plays or impacts what happens on the field.
In past weeks, it has been head coach Mike Tomlin or quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who dispelled any rumor of the team not taking an opponent seriously. This time it was running back Le'Veon Bell.
"We don't get hung up on the records or anything," Bell said according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We just hadn't executed the way we should have against teams we should beat."
As far as how the Steelers' have played recently, there has been a lot of speculation about why the team seems to lose to teams with sub-.500 records and beats teams with plus-.500 records. So far this season the team is 4-2 against teams that are currently at .500 or better, and 3-3 against teams with a winning percentage below .500.
One could speculate that the reason the team isn't winning consistently against losing teams is because the team just isn't good enough to play to their potential every week and win against opponents with lesser records.
Despite his 254 yards from scrimmage being the most from any Steeler in a single game, Bell knows that the "we" part of the team not executing doesn't exclude him. The team has to finish drives and put away teams when they have the opportunity to do so. At this point, they're not a team that can look at any opponent and assume it's a win; a mentality that Bell seemed to portray yesterday.
Bell said they need to treat every game "like it's the only game of the season, like every team is undefeated, and we haven't been doing that."
If every player on the team takes that approach, would it yield different results? Maybe and maybe not. But Bell thinks that we might just get the opportunity to see the team with that kind of focus this week.
Steelers ring Bell for 204 yards vs. Titans.
When asked about the upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bell responded, "Yeah, guys will be more excited. Everybody knows how big of a game it's going to be this week. We'll see what guys bring this week."
Does that mean the Steelers should have used that increased level of excitement last week? Or would they have been just as excited to play the Saints if New Orleans was 11-0 going into their game? It could just be the fact that they're going up against a divisional opponent and a rival.
Fortunately for those who believe there's something to the mentality of the Steelers playing down to opponents, three of their final four opponents have winning records and are competing in the same playoff race as Pittsburgh. Though the Kansas City Chiefs are on a losing streak, they sit at 7-5 just like the Steelers.
The Cincinnati Bengals are sitting with the third seed in the playoffs, leading the AFC North with a game and a half lead on Pittsburgh. The last time the Steelers were 7-5 with the Bengals in first place of the division, the Steelers were able to win the rest of their regular-season games and go on to win the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.
But that was a completely different team. The front seven included multiple all-star-caliber players who were legends in that era of Steelers football. Also, the team didn't need to lean on their quarterback nearly as much with the strong defense and a diverse running tandem of speedy Willie Parker and bulky Jerome Bettis.
Today the team has one pure running back in Bell who can perform multiple functions for the team that sits a game behind teams they're chasing for even a wild-card spot in the playoffs. The defense is able to generate stops and turnovers occasionally, but without the load of Pro-Bowl-level talent it had then, it cannot perform with the consistency of the team in the legendary 2005-2006 run. The only constant between those two teams is Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and that he has good games and bad games.
Maybe if he has more good games than bad in these next few weeks, the trend of missing the playoffs will end after two seasons. But either way, it's going to take a team effort to be able to develop any consistency against their upcoming opponents.
There needed to be a level of urgency on the team coming out of the bye-week, and that need is even more prominent now than it was before. It seems that at least Le'Veon Bell might be aware of this need.
"Now it's coming down to it. It's getting a little tighter. We're going against the division leaders twice; that's a good thing for us. We're in a position where we still control our own destiny. Last year we were looking from the outside in. We have to make sure we handle our business."
First order of business is beating the Bengals in Cincinnati, something the Steelers have been able to do in three out of their past four visits to Paul Brown Stadium.