The demise of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it would appear, is greatly exaggerated.
The Steelers marched into Baltimore, where the Ravens virtually never lose, with a third-string quarterback and marched out with a 23-20 victory.
The Steelers' season was supposed to be over after Ben Roethlisberger sustained shoulder and rib injuries that would keep him out of action through both Baltimore games.
Instead, thanks to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, who improbably led the Steelers to the win in Baltimore, the Steelers improved to 7-5 and are one giant step closer to the playoffs. Granted, nothing is certain yet, but this could be a case where the Steelers squeak into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed and wreak havoc on the playoff bracket.
As of now, the Colts (8-4) are likely to get one AFC wild-card spot, and assuming the Ravens hold their two-game lead and win the AFC North, then the Steelers (7-5) and Bengals (7-5) are fighting for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. Those teams face each other Dec. 23 at Heinz Field.
But if Roethlisberger returns to form for the playoffs, beware of the Steelers. They still own the league's No. 1-ranked defense, and have managed that without much from Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who returned to action at Baltimore Sunday after missing seven straight games. They have a dynamic and deep running game, with Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall, and a slew of speedy receivers.
It hasn't been a smooth first three months for the Steelers, whose body of work includes losses to the Raiders, Titans and Browns. But if they can reach the playoffs, none of that will matter. The slate will be wiped clean, as they say, and if Roethlisberger returns and can be effective, this team could make a deep playoff run. They'd have to win on the road, but if they can win in Baltimore, they can win anywhere.
"The playoffs are always our goal," wide receiver Antonio Brown said after the win over the Ravens. "The only way we give ourselves a shot is winning ballgames to get into the playoffs."