JACKSONVILLE -- A voice boomed through the Pittsburgh Steelers' postgame locker room scene, letting everyone know his team was supposed to get buried Sunday.
"But not us," coach Mike Tomlin said after the 20-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Not only does a six-game win streak stay alive, but the Steelers also got the ultimate win-win by playing poorly enough to learn from an ugly victory.
The Steelers showed that they can find creative ways to win amid a collapsing game plan by exhausting every second of the 60-minute game clock, being the more physical team on defense and believing that their bevy of playmakers will prevail most weeks.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger used the words "terrible" and "horrible" to describe the offense and his three-interception performance, but he almost wore those words proudly because of what the win represents.
While the fourth-quarter offense racked up 179 yards and two touchdowns, the Steelers' defense held Jacksonville to minus-3 yards.
Through it all, defensive players were encouraging Roethlisberger from the sideline, telling him, "All right, Ben, you've got this."
"They never stopped believing in us. We believe in them and thank them," Roethlisberger said. "I hope if we get in a situation again toward the end of the season where one of us isn't playing well, we can show that, 'Hey, remember that game in Jacksonville when it didn't look good until the final eight seconds and we found way?' Hopefully we can use this."
Most importantly, the Steelers' offense learned that it has a defense that can bail it out on occasion. That didn't look like a possibility when the Steelers were giving up six touchdowns to Patrick Mahomes in Week 2. Things have settled down, and so has a defense that has adequately handled pure passers, read-option passers and run-heavy sets the past six weeks.
This defense might just be built for January.
“Those are the ones you want to win -- when it’s ugly,” Cam Heyward said. “It shows a lot of character, lot of maturity.”
The Steelers didn't cave Sunday because, as guard Ramon Foster says, "We’ve got too much to play for."
"We’re trying to hold on to this run we’re on," Foster said. "We’ve got goals of potentially having a first-round bye. That’s our goal right now. Win the North, get a bye."
There are some obvious concerns. The Jaguars showcased a blueprint for beating Pittsburgh: use rangy defenders to interrupt passing lanes on Roethlisberger and control the time of possession with the running game. Jacksonville held the ball for nearly 23 minutes in the first half.
Slow starts are nothing new. Sunday was the Steelers' fourth game this season in which they failed to run more than four plays on either of their first two drives.
“We can score a lot of points, and we didn’t today," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "We’ve got to look at the film and correct a lot of things before we play next week. I’m sure a lot of guys are willing to do that.”
James Conner has two potentially costly late-game drops to shrug off. Let's be honest: It's unfair but honest to ask if Le'Veon Bell would have taken his eyes off the ball like Conner obviously did.
Conner's hot yards streak slowed Sunday, with 25 yards on nine carries and six catches for 24 yards. But the Steelers believe he's too good to stay that low for long.
After Conner's second drop, which would have been a walk-in touchdown, Roethlisberger jokingly told his teammates thanks because "it gave me a touchdown." The two had a laugh about it.
The Steelers know they will need more of Conner over the final six games.
"James is one of those special football players where he can't get down on himself," Roethlisberger said. "This will be one of those awesome tests to see how he bounces back. I think he'll be fine."