PITTSBURGH – Their once-promising season on the brink of a full-out collapse, the Pittsburgh Steelers headed to the locker room for halftime at Heinz Field on Sunday still searching for the team that began the season with 11 straight victories.
Ben Roethlisberger believed it was still in there somewhere. Even as the losses in December piled up. Even as the offense spent weeks stuck in neutral. Even as attrition pecked away at one of the NFL's best defenses.
And even as the Steelers spent the first half against Indianapolis seemingly in a full-out sprint to get to the offseason as quickly as possible.
“Sometimes you need a little shock to yourself to believe again,” Roethlisberger said.
One 39-yard rope from the player who has symbolized the team's erratic play perhaps more than any other provided that jolt. It revived Pittsburgh's floundering season and delivered the Steelers the AFC North title.
Listless and lifeless for the better part of a month, Roethlisberger threw three second-half touchdowns — starting with a third-quarter strike to a fully horizontal Diontae Johnson — as the Steelers rallied past stunned Indianapolis 28-24 to win their first division title since 2017.
The 38-year-old Roethlisberger, who looked every bit his age and then some during Pittsburgh's recent slide, snapped out of it while completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards. He ditched the dink-and-dunk approach that had worked during the early portion of the season but became far too predictable during his team's December swoon.
The reward is at least one home playoff game. The Steelers (12-3) sported T-shirts that read “Won Not Done” during a celebration fueled equally by joy and relief. The swag had been at the ready for a few weeks only to be shelved as losses to Washington, Buffalo and, shockingly, Cincinnati piled up.