Steelers playing scrappy survivor role until Ben Roethlisberger returns

Despite some bumps, the Steelers remain commited to Michael Vick as their QB while starter Ben Roethlisberger recovers. AP Photo/Denis Poroy

SAN DIEGO -- The Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t put the Wildcat formation into a game plan until this week, when Le'Veon Bell looked so good running it in practice that offensive coordinator Todd Haley made a note to himself.

If the Steelers get one play to get one yard, Bell’s getting the direct snap.

Before that chance, the Steelers huddled under the sticky San Diego sky with five seconds left on the clock. These words were said: Let’s make it epic.

"Tonight, 'Monday Night Football,' what better way to do it than to make it epic," left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. "We talked about that."

That sequence explains where the Steelers are right now. This is a good-but-flawed team that must pull out every stop to get wins until Ben Roethlisberger returns. Monday's wild 24-20 win was no different.

Credit the Steelers for taking chances late.

"It was time to go to the mattresses if you will," coach Mike Tomlin said.

Wildcat formations and inspirational huddles are hard to sell if Bell doesn’t squeeze the ball past the goal line with a Chargers defender clutching his legs, a walk-off touchdown as the clock struck zero.

Right now, every win must be squeaked out. That probably won’t change Sunday against Arizona, one of the league’s hottest teams.

Moments like these have a way of lingering. Winning is infectious. Snapshots like these are critical.

The Steelers have gotten four turnovers and seven sacks from their defense the past two weeks and came out of that haze with a 1-1 record against sub-.500 teams.

Winning without Roethlisberger requires creativity. For next week, that could mean more of quarterback Michael Vick throwing on the run.

Clearly Vick looked more comfortable in the fourth quarter, throwing for 116 of his 203 yards. The previous three quarters were ugly -- like, tell Landry Jones to warm up ugly.

Vick admits he still needs to find more of a rhythm in this offense, but in the fourth quarter, when he orchestrated a beautiful final drive, "we were just throwing everything out that they had in the book," Vick said.

Maybe the Steelers should do more of that. For much of the game, the Steelers looked like they either didn’t trust Vick or wanted to protect him (or didn’t protect him, in the case of the offensive line early in the game). The game plan is conservative. When Vick could throw on the run or had running lanes to take off, he finished 4-of-7 for 44 yards and a 24 yard rush on that last drive.

"We’ve kind of got to go back to the drawing board and just kind of start all over," Vick said.

Tomlin is backing the quarterback he signed in late August as a free agent. The Steelers found something late in the game -- that Vick can be a catalyst, despite the uneven accuracy.

"He’s got a career of highlights like that, delivering those types of plays in critical moments," Tomlin said. "That’s why for the time being he’s our quarterback."

That could mean one more week, maybe two. Roethlisberger seems on an aggressive rehab path. A stadium full of Steelers fans (seriously, this was like a home game) roared when Roethlisberger jogged onto the field before the game.

For now, Vick is the quarterback and Bell is the general.

If Bell keeps running like he has the past two weeks -- 11 carries for 80 yards with eight or more defenders in the box Monday night -- the Steelers will always have a chance.

"I definitely think I’m a better football player than I was last year," Bell said. "I’m smarter, I’m quicker, I’m faster. The game has slowed down for me so much."

In epic fashion.