Tim Benz: Congrats, Steelers! You beat the Patriots. Now what? | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz
The Steelers’ Joe Haden and Mike Hilton take down the Patriots’ Julian Edelman short a first-down yardage Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018 at Heinz Field.

The Steelers ripped the monkey off their back.

They caught the white whale.

They finally figured out how to skin the cat.

Gosh, I hope PETA wasn’t watching the game Sunday at Heinz Field Sunday. They wouldn’t have liked the result.

Well, insert whatever animal-friendly term you want to use, the result is the same. The Steelers finally figured out how to beat the New England Patriots.

Great. So, now what?

Steelers fans better hope the players and coaches honored the “24-hour rule” of celebrating the win because Mike Tomlin’s players are going from trying to beat a team that continually wins the Super Bowl, to the one most people think will do so this year.

The Steelers (8-6-1) face the Saints (12-2) on Sunday in New Orleans. The Black and Gold haven’t enjoyed a win there since Chuck Noll was the head coach. That was a 9-6 victory back in 1990.

Another loss at New Orleans coupled with a win by the Ravens against the Chargers on Saturday night would knock the Steelers out of first place in the AFC North with one week to go.

If that weekend result occurs, both divisional and wild-card playoff hopes would be slim. The Steelers host the Bengals and the Ravens host the Browns in Week 17.

“We know we are playing a really good football team in their venue. We don’t run away from that,” coach Mike Tomlin said of the Saints. “We understand what time of year it is. If you have the intentions that we have, you need forks in the road such as this.”

Steelers fans may want to use that fork to stab themselves in the eye so they don’t have to look at how daunting of a task this may be in Louisiana.

The Saints have the NFL’s best record, best run defense, second-highest scoring offense, highest-rated passer in Drew Brees and fifth-ranked player in yards from scrimmage in Alvin Kamara.

Plus, they are motivated. A Saints victory Sunday gives them top seed in the NFC.

Keep in mind that the Steelers’ last two road games have resulted in losses to sub-.500 teams in Oakland and Denver. The Saints have lost at home once this year and just twice since the start of last year.

It’s stunning that they are favored by only 5 1⁄2 points, as of Wednesday morning.

“You can waste a lot of time making bold statements and predictions,” Tomlin said. “The bottom line is we have to consistently step into stadiums and produce winning performance when the ball is snapped. So we’ll wait for the ball to be snapped.”

Usually, once the ball is snapped, bad things happen to other teams against New Orleans. The Saints’ plus-11.9 average scoring margin is the best in the league.

It’d be a shame, wouldn’t it? To have waited so long for a win against the Patriots only to have it occur in the vacuum of a non-playoff season?

Steelers fans didn’t want to endure seven years of torture against that club only to see the win amount to a footnote in a year that didn’t even result in a postseason berth.

At least the last Steelers team to defeat the Patriots (2011) was 12-4 and got to the playoffs as a wild-card seed. And even though the 2004 Steelers eventually lost to New England in a rematch in the AFC Championship Game, their win against New England in that magical 15-1 season is one of the fonder memories at Heinz Field.

The last few years, the Patriots were the Steelers’ marquee matchup ­— with a season-long crescendo of hype and anticipation for the game. Last year’s contest essentially decided home-field advantage in the playoffs. The game the year before was the AFC Championship. This year, neither team has even officially punched a playoff ticket yet. It’s odd to have the result of this round result in such little immediate consequence.

The Steelers organization and its fan base have been kicked around too long by the “big brother” from New England to have the celebration of that win be so muted by the potential of missing out on the postseason. It’d be a shame.

So, hopefully for them, the Chargers can take care of business against Baltimore. That’d provide Tomlin’s team the cushion it would need to control its fate without help in Week 17 by beating the stumbling Bengals at Heinz Field.

Otherwise, the Steelers better regroup and slay an even bigger, meaner dragon this week.

Is killing dragons, OK? I mean, they aren’t real. I don’t want to inspire any protests.

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