PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t good right now in the way the New England Patriots are. Maybe not good like the Indianapolis Colts, either.

They’re also not a team opponents are eager to play. Not with Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball better than ever and a defense making game-altering plays like so many Steelers teams before them.

No matter the era, be it the Super Bowl-filled ’70s or the long run of successful seasons they enjoyed in the 1990s and into this century, the Steelers have rarely performed better than they did in roughing up Baltimore 38-7 on Monday night.

Fittingly, many of their one dozen Hall of Famers were on hand as part of the team’s 75th season celebration, with Roethlisberger putting on a Terry Bradshaw-like show with five TD passes before halftime.

Linebacker James Harrison had a night Jack Ham and Jack Lambert would have envied, with three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception and 3sacks. He might have won the NFL’s defensive player of the month award in one night.

“We made splash plays,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, “and by splash plays I mean significant plays: sacks, fumbles, turnovers, big plays in the passing game.”

The victory sets up the Steelers (6-2) to take a firm grip on the AFC North lead if they beat second-place Cleveland (5-3) on Sunday at Heinz Field. After that, the Jets (1-8), Dolphins (0-8) and Bengals (2-6) follow in successive weeks.

The Steelers have had a couple of glitches, road defeats against the Cardinals (3-5) and Broncos (3-5) they find difficult to explain. In their other six games, they have a scoring advantage of 180-46.

They’ve been even better at home, winning all four games by a combined score of 122-26 and an average score of 30-6. None of their five Super Bowl-winning teams was nearly as dominating at home during the front half of a season.

“I like to think there’s some mystique in that,” Tomlin said. “The reality is that the four games we played at home, we stepped into the stadium ready to play.”

Maybe the Steelers aren’t up to a superpower level, but they’ll get the chance to match themselves against New England (9-0) on Dec. 9 in Foxborough. A significant upset must occur before then to prevent them from being 10-2 going into that game.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “But if we play the way we’re capable of playing, the sky’s the limit.”

The Steelers certainly don’t resemble the team that was 2-6 a year ago, and the reasons for the turnaround go far beyond the coaching change from Bill Cowher to Tomlin.

Roethlisberger has almost reversed his numbers, throwing 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions compared with seven TDs and 14 interceptions through the Steelers’ first eight games last season. Three times he has thrown four or more TD passes.

For a guy who stumbled through last season with a variety of physical problems, Roethlisberger is looking much like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. (The comparisons: Brady has 33 touchdown passes and four interceptions; Manning has 14 and 4.)

Roethlisberger isn’t the only Steelers player who is protecting the ball better. A year ago, the Steelers committed 24 turnovers and forced only 12 through eight games. This season, they have 10 turnovers and 16 takeaways.

The Steelers have allowed a league-low 1,902 yards, an average of 237.8 per game and an improvement from the 2,273 yards they gave up last year.

“We really don’t want to measure it,” Tomlin said. “We just want to prepare during the week and play to the best of our capabilities on weekends. Evaluate and make corrections and move on and do it again. Kind of live in a tunnel. That’s all we’ve done.”

AP-ES-11-06-07 1613EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.