Isaac Redman was talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ convincing 24-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. The running back may as well have been discussing his team’s suddenly promising season as a whole.
“We knew that if we just kept playing our ball that everything would come along for us,” Redman said after rushing for a career-high 147 yards and the game-winning touchdown. “The only person that can beat the Steelers is the Steelers.”
At the moment, that’s not happening, even if Pittsburgh (5-3) tried its best on a day the Giants looked out of sync following a week spent dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
New York turned two Ben Roethlisberger turnovers – one of them a disputed fumble – into a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin inexplicably eschewed a gimme field goal that would have tied the game late for a trick play that fizzled. The Steelers committed six penalties for a season-high 119 yards.
Yet they also left little doubt in the end.
Pittsburgh scored the game’s final 14 points and pushed the Giants all over the field in the final minutes. Eli Manning took nine snaps on New York’s last three possessions and lost eight yards against a defense that looked like it could play well into January and perhaps beyond.
This from the same group that looked a step slow while squandering leads on the road to lesser lights Tennessee and Oakland earlier in the year.
“We’re finishing the game now,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing ... we went to Oakland, we didn’t finish and when we went to Tennessee, we didn’t finish, but (Sunday) we finished.”
As a result, the season may just be beginning.
Pittsburgh has won three straight and will play five of its final eight games at Heinz Field, where the Steelers are 17-4 since 2010. The only road trips are to Cleveland, Baltimore and Dallas, all winnable if Pittsburgh can play with the ferocity it showed in New York.
The defense limited the Giants to 182 yards of total offense. Redman shook off balky ankles to repeatedly churn into New York’s secondary through holes that appeared to get wider as the day wore on.
“It starts up front, I like the personality that’s developing within that group, led by guys like Maurkice Pouncey and Willie Colon,” Tomlin said. “They set the pace for us.”
One that appears to be sustainable whomever is lined up in the backfield.
With Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall inactive due to injury, Redman ran with a fury that seemed to wear down the Giants. He gashed New York for 53 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard burst on Pittsburgh’s last possession that allowed the Steelers to run out the clock.
“We were down at running back, and you know, it was my turn to step up,” Redman said. “I’ve been down for a couple of weeks so I was anxious to get back onto the field.”
So were Redman’s teammates, who can sense things starting to build. Roethlisberger put in another typically efficient performance, throwing for two scores, including a 51-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Mike Wallace that marked the first time all season a Pittsburgh wideout turned a short pass into the kind of splash plays that turn games around.
It was sweet redemption for the speedy but inconsistent Wallace, who dropped a third-down pass earlier in the game. He atoned by correctly reading the New York blitz, breaking off his route in time to snare a Roethlisberger fastball then showcase his remarkable quickness while sprinting down the sideline.
“I feel like this is possibly the best win that we’ve had since I’ve been on this team just because we overcame so much,” Wallace said. “We had a lot of adversity to overcome ... but everybody stayed together. Everybody stayed positive and we won the game.”
Something the Steelers expect to do plenty of over the final two months. They are relatively healthy outside of safety Troy Polamalu’s torn right calf and the offense is getting the kind of balance it lacked early on thanks to a rejuvenated running game.
Still, Pittsburgh is well aware it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Roethlisberger is quick to note the offense is still leaving points on the field and the defense, for all its improvement, committed a couple of key penalties that led to New York scores.
Yet the Steelers also know it’s better to learn those lessons in victory than defeat. It speaks to Tomlin’s success that 5-3 is Pittsburgh’s worst record at the midway point since he took over in 2007. It’s not perfect, true, but it certainly beats being .500. Or worse.
“Coach Tomlin said, “This game is the fork in the road, which way do we want to go?” Redman said. “We’re in the right direction.”