The Pittsburgh Steelers outlasted an inferior Jacksonville Jaguars team on Sunday with a 27-3 victory to push their historic season to a 10-0 start. But a much tougher task awaits them in just four short days.
The Steelers will host the Baltimore Ravens in a Thanksgiving night matchup at Heinz Field with an opportunity to further distance themselves from the Ravens in the AFC North and the field for the top AFC seed in the playoffs. The Ravens (6-4) lost to the Tennessee Titans 30-24 in overtime on Sunday.
And instead of stumbling in a potential trap game, the Steelers enter the Ravens rematch coming off two mostly dominant performances against the Cincinnati Bengals and Jaguars (1-9) -- an encouraging sign after nearly losing their undefeated season on the road against the Dallas Cowboys three weeks ago.
The Steelers are the 18th team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 10-0, and 10 of the previous 17 teams reached the Super Bowl -- the most recent being the 2015 Carolina Panthers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And six of the previous 17 teams won the Super Bowl, most recently the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
The Steelers will enter Thursday's pivotal game mostly healthy, though the biggest concern is the availability of Joe Haden and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who both sustained injuries Sunday. Haden got injured on a tackle of Jaguars rookie running back James Robinson in the third quarter. He came back out for a series but was replaced by Cam Sutton in the fourth.
Smith-Schuster also had to come to the sideline in the fourth quarter but returned after being looked at by team athletic trainers. As he jogged off at the end of a play a few minutes later, Smith-Schuster appeared to step on an official's flag and sustain a toe injury. He limped off the field and got more medical attention on the sideline. He didn't come back into the game after the injury, but as Smith-Schuster limped around the bench area, the broadcast reported he would have been able to come back in if necessary.
The Steelers had an opportunity to get Smith-Schuster and the rest of the starters out earlier with a 17-3 lead at halftime, but the offense stalled out in the third quarter, and the Steelers had to punt three times after converting just 1 of 5 third downs.
Instead of spending the entire fourth quarter getting a head start on healing up for Thursday's game, the Steelers' starters had to grind out a nine-play, 45-yard drive in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to take a 20-3 lead on Chris Boswell's second field goal of the day. And after Terrell Edmunds' second interception of the day, the Steelers sealed the win with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Eric Ebron. When the next Jacksonville possession ended with Minkah Fitzpatrick's second interception of the afternoon, Roethlisberger remained on the bench, and Mason Rudolph took over for the final five minutes.
QB breakdown: Roethlisberger had an adequate performance Sunday, but more importantly, he's healthy. Roethlisberger completed 32 of 46 attempts for 267 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception, and he tested the deep ball a couple of times, too. He spread the ball around to his receivers, but especially stoked the connection with second-year receiver Diontae Johnson, who had 12 catches on 16 targets for 111 yards -- his second consecutive 100-yard game.
Promising trend: Run-game returns. Welcome back, James Conner. No, the Steelers running back didn't technically go anywhere, but he's been all but invisible in the past three games, averaging 35 yards per game. He returned to form against the Jaguars, rushing for 87 yards on 11 carries. The Steelers, though, didn't just rely on Conner. Benny Snell Jr. scored his third touchdown of the season on a 1-yard carry. Involving more running backs took some of the load off Tomlin's lead back, but most of their carries were ineffective and oddly timed on second-and-longs that put the Steelers further behind the sticks and often forced them to punt.
Promising trend: Pick party. Edmunds didn't have a single interception entering Sunday's game. Now he's leaving Jacksonville with two. Edmunds nabbed two of rookie quarterback Jake Luton's passes, including one in the fourth quarter that he tipped to himself. He wasn't the only Steelers safety to feast off Luton. Fitzpatrick grabbed a ball near the end zone and returned it 37 yards in the second quarter. And, like Edmunds, Fitzpatrick also got a second interception in the fourth quarter as he dove to snag Luton's errant pass.
Promising trend: Sack attack. With Stephon Tuitt's third-quarter sack, the Steelers have now registered at least one sack in 67 consecutive regular-season games, good for the longest active streak in the NFL and the longest in regular-season franchise history. THe Steelers finished with two sacks, the second one courtesy of Bud Dupree.