The Steelers spent the first seven games of the regular season alternating every win with a loss. They then went on to win eight of their final 10, sealing the franchise's first AFC North championship in four years. But it wasn't always easy. As the Steelers mark their return to postseason play for the first time since 2011, Times Steelers Writer Chris Bradford looks back at his five defining moments of this season:
WEEK 3: at CAROLINA
STEELERS 37, PANTHERS 19: On a warm Sunday night in Charlotte, the Steelers posted their second win of the season -- and first on the road -- but it came at a great cost. The Steelers scored 28 points in the second half as Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount became the first Pittsburgh running backs to rush for 100 yards in the same game. However, the Steelers lost the services of CB Ike Taylor and LB Jarvis Jones for most of the season. With Jones placed on IR/designated to return, the Steelers reached out to James Harrison and re-signed the former defensive player of the year. While Harrison has battled injuries, the 36-year-old has restored a swagger to the defense.
WEEK 4: vs. TAMPA BAY
BUCCANEERS 27, STEELERS 24: If the Steelers had missed the playoffs, this was the game that likely would have kept them out. Coming off the impressive road win in Carolina, the Steelers laid an egg the following week, losing to hapless Tampa Bay and QB Mike Glennon. The Steelers overcame a 10-point, first-half deficit, but could not sustain it. It was the only game in which the Steelers blew a half-time lead as Glennon hit Vincent Jackson on a 5-yard TD pass with :07 remaining for the win. Tampa Bay, which earned the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, won only one other game this season (against four-win Washington).
WEEK 7: vs. HOUSTON
STEELERS 30, TEXANS 23: In the first of a crucial three-game homestand, the Steelers rallied to victory over J.J. Watt and Houston on a Monday night game. The outcome turned on the final 73 seconds of the first half as the Steelers scored three touchdowns in that span to erase a 13-0 deficit and take a 24-13 lead into the break. It also marked the arrival of rookie WR Martavis Bryant, who scored the first of Pittsburgh's touchdowns and the first of his fledgling career. Bryant's emergence sparked the Steelers' offense to new heights.
WEEK 14: at CINCINNATI
STEELERS 42, BENGALS 21: After losing two of their previous three, including an inexplicable loss to the lowly Jets in the Meadowlands on Nov. 17, the Steelers rebounded with perhaps their most inspired performance of the season on Dec. 7 at Paul Brown Stadium. Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Steelers exploded for 32 points in the second half, led by Le'Veon Bell. The second-year running back rushed for 185 yards and joined Walter Payton as the only player to record 200 yards from scrimmage in three straight games.
WEEK 17: vs. CINCINNATI
STEELERS 27, BENGALS 17: Needing a win to secure a home playoff game and a division title, the Steelers did both with a complete team effort. Antonio Brown set the tone with a 71-yard punt return for a TD, Brice McCain picked off a pair of Andy Dalton passes and Ben Roethlisberger shook off the flu and threw for 317 yards. But, again, victory came at a cost. Bell suffered a hyperextended right knee in the third quarter. Though the Steelers secured the No. 3 seed in the AFC, their playoff hopes could ride on a healthy Bell.