If there were any question whether Ben Roethlisberger still had the “it” factor, his play the last two weeks should have helped alleviate some of those concerns.

Last Sunday in Indianapolis, Roethlisberger overcame a putrid start – 3 of 9 for 27 yards and an interception for a 2.8 passer rating – to complete 16 of his final 22 passes and put together the 40th fourth quarter game-winning drive of his career. Of current NFL quarterbacks, only Tom Brady and Drew Brees have more.

Then, Thursday night against Tennessee, Roethlisberger lit up the Titans, completing 30 of 45 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Steelers to a 40-17 victory.

The angst among Steelers fans following the 20-17 last-second victory in Indianapolis last weekend made it seem like that game was a loss.

But wins are wins, no matter how you get them, especially in road games.

While Thursday night’s victory was impressive – particularly over a team that entered with a 6-3 record – the Steelers, and Roethlisberger, are the same as they were a week ago.

The only thing that has changed is the perception.

The perception has been that Roethlisberger has been having a sub-par season. And by his standards, that is the case. His passer rating of 87.8 is below his career mark of 93.7 and would be his lowest since 2008.

And his 10 interceptions are far too many. But take away a five-interception game against Jacksonville and his passer rating rises to 96.2.

That’s more like it for a quarterback of his caliber.

There are no mulligans in the NFL. Every game counts.

There’s no doubt the Steelers don’t want Roethlisberger flinging the ball around the field like he did earlier in his career. They want to be an offense that is much more balanced to take advantage of the unique skills of Le’Veon Bell.

But it’s nice to know Roethlisberger still has the ability to pull their bacon out of the fire or come out slinging the ball out of the no-huddle offense if needed.

  • The reason Bell didn’t get the ball as much – at least on the ground – against the Titans was twofold.

First, the Steelers wanted to attack Tennessee’s defense with their no-huddle offense, which doesn’t lend itself to a lot of running.

Second, the Steelers wanted to limit Bell’s touches in a game played just four days after he had gotten 31 in the win over the Colts.

Bell got 17 carries for 54 yards against the Titans and has an 86-yard lead over Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt for the NFL rushing lead.

The Steelers have not had an NFL rushing leader since 1946, when “Bullett” Bill Dudley led the NFL for the second time. He also led the league in rushing in 1942.

Dudley and Byron “Whizzer” White are the only two Steelers to lead the NFL in rushing. White, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, led the league in 1936.

  • One thing the Steelers should be concerned about is their pass defense. After allowing a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 42-yard completion against the Titans, the Steelers have now given up eight of their 10 longest pass plays in the past three games.

Yes, they were playing without corner Joe Haden and safety Mike Mitchell against the Titans, but this had been a team that was not allowing opponents to complete big pass plays early in the season.

That has dramatically changed over the past three weeks.

The good news is that of those eight passing plays of 30 yards or more, just three have gone for touchdowns. But it’s something the Steelers need to clean up.

  • • With the win over the Titans Thursday night safely in hand, the Steelers can sit at home today and watch the slate of NFL games.

At 8-2, Pittsburgh sits atop the AFC standings and will continue to hold that spot regardless of the outcome of any of today’s games. And if the Steelers continue to win, that will not change.

What should Steelers fans be hoping for today?

Winning the division is all but a certainty for the Steelers at this point. Now, fans can start looking at playoff positioning.

Losses by Jacksonville, New England or Kansas City would be big.

However, given the opponents, that doesn’t seem likely. Jacksonville visits winless Cleveland, while Kansas City is in New York to face the one-win Giants. New England has a bit of a tester, facing Oakland in Mexico City, but it’s a game the Patriots should win.

Dale Lolley writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

Compiled by Joe Tuscano

Assistant Sports Editor

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling.

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