PITTSBURGH -- There was a time not all that long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers had trouble scoring.
They were among the league's lowest-scoring offenses in the first half of the season and relied heavily on their defense to win games. Now, after injuries have depleted the defense, it's the offense that is carrying the team on its shoulders.
On the right arm of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers eked out a 39-38 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night to clinch the AFC North division title. It was their third division title in the past four years.
The Steelers didn't score 30 points in the first nine games of the season. They've scored 30 or more in three of the past four games and are averaging 34 points per game over the past four games.
The fact that their latest outburst came against one of the top defenses in the league is encouraging, too. The Ravens entered the game as a top-five defense across the board, and the Steelers dismantled them.
Roethlisberger attempted 66 passes and threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
"We'll do whatever it takes to win a football game," Roethlisberger said. "Whether it is winning by 30 or three, we just want to win a football game."
Roethlisberger believes the offense can be even more efficient than it has been. The Ravens made some halftime adjustments and forced the Steelers to punt twice in the third quarter, giving the Ravens the opportunity to take a 31-20 lead.
"I do not think we were very consistent," Roethlisberger said. "I thought we had some lulls there in the middle. We started strong. We settled for some field goals, which we do not want to do obviously, and then came on strong late so we did some good things in that sense. But we would like to be more consistent."
The Steelers might have to be more consistent if they are going to beat their next opponent. The Patriots visit Heinz Field Sunday.
"We can win a shootout against anybody," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "I feel like our offense has a lot of playmakers. We have one of the best players in the league in Antonio Brown, making plays on the outside. We have an offensive line doing what they do up front. I make my plays here and there. So, I feel like we can score points whenever we need to. We scored 39 not playing our best. So, yeah, I think we can win a shootout against anybody."
REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
--PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- Ben Roethlisberger had one of the best games of his distinguished career, passing for 506 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the third time in his career that he threw for 500 or more yards. No one else in NFL history has done that. Antonio Brown, the league's leading receiver, had 11 receptions for 213 yards. The big surprise of the night was tight end Jesse James catching a career-high 10 passes for 97 yards. Running back Le'Veon Bell was terrific again as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught nine passes for 77 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown reception when he was split out as a receiver.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Steelers didn't really try to run the ball in the final three quarters of the game, but they were effective when they needed to be. Le'Veon Bell carried the ball 13 times for 48 yards and scored on runs of 11 and 1 yards. The 11-yard touchdown run came in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Steelers totaled 59 yards on 16 carries. They'll have to become a better running team if they're ever involved in a bad-weather game, but as long as Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the ball as well as he is now they don't have to rely on it much.
--PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Steelers continue to miss cornerback Joe Haden, who was out for his fourth consecutive game with a fractured fibula. The secondary had trouble covering the Ravens' receivers and compounded their problems by not tackling well after the catch. Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Giving up big plays continues to be a problem for the secondary. Five Ravens receivers had at least one catch for 20 or more yards. Three of those catches were for 30 yards or more. Safety Sean Davis did have an interception, and it proved to be an important one. He picked off Flacco near the Steelers' goal line and returned it near midfield on the Ravens' first possession of the game. But after that, the Steelers had a hard time defending the pass. Up next: Tom Brady.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Steelers entered the game as a top-10 rushing defense, but it was the second week in a row they were dominated in the running game. The Ravens rushed for 152 yards, including 120 by Alex Collins. The shoddy performance came a week after the Bengals rushed for 130 yards against them. It's understandable considering the Steelers played without Ryan Shazier for the second week in a row, but now they have to find a way to fix the problem because Shazier isn't going to play again this season.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Kicker Chris Boswell is as clutch as they come. For the third consecutive week, he made a field goal in the final minute to give the Steelers a victory. His 46-yarder with 42 seconds left was his fourth field goal of the game. There was a time the Steelers had trouble finding a kicker who could handle performing at Heinz Field, one of the most difficult venues in the NFL for kickers. Boswell has mastered it. He has five field goals of 50 yards or more in the past three seasons, and all five came at Heinz Field, including a 52-yarder Sunday in the first half. Punter Jordan Berry wasn't called on much, but he had three punts for 141 yards.
--COACHING: A -- It was an emotional week for the Steelers after linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury in Cincinnati last Monday. Head coach Mike Tomlin did a good job of making sure the Steelers were prepared to play such a pivotal game. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has found his rhythm as a play-caller and stayed with the hot hand of Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has some work to do to get his depleted defense in order, but he pulled the right strings late in the game when the Steelers got two stops in the fourth quarter.