While no loss is good, the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Denver Broncos may not have come at a horrible time. Don’t get wrong, this team was red hot, and it would have been great to watch them ride into the sunset with a Super Bowl victory. However, in the grind of the NFL, this league is a marathon much more than it is a sprint. In that regard, the Steelers hit a bump in the road but now have a chance to reset and sprint to the end, which will feature its toughest leg of the season.

The first stretch started with poor footing in their tie to the Cleveland Browns and loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. However, they gathered themselves, going 1-1 against the Ravens and Buccaneers to keep themselves in the long race. Then, they started to hit their stride against a depleted Falcons team giving them a chance to make up some ground with a big division win against the Bengals to send them into the bye week and start the second leg of their race.

The Steelers ripped through their next four games, picking up where they left off and extended a winning streak to six games. They beat the Cleveland Browns so badly that they fired their head coach. They sent the Ravens into a spiral that put John Harbaugh on the hot seat and Joe Flacco to the bench.

Then, coming off of a physical division rivalry against the Ravens they bounced back in four days to beat the Panthers so badly that they cannot seem to win a game now. The quick two-game stretch against teams with a winning record was not enough, as the Steelers got pushed to the limit by the Jacksonville Jaguars to win in the last second.

The fact of the matter is that this team was running of fumes. Then, they had to go from the warmth of Jacksonville to mile-high Denver to keep the thing going. They went from the Carolina Panthers option running attack to the ground and pound of Leonard Fournette and Jaguars to the speed of the number one ground attack in Denver. They had to do it all in succession and quite frankly gave out.

Mike Tomlin was quoted as saying he thought turnovers were the difference and they absolutely were. The Steelers had the edge in time of possession, yards, penalties and third down conversions. They lost in turnovers 4-0. It happens.

The offense lost fumbles. The defense gave up a 100 yard rusher for the first time in 14 games. In all, the Steelers lost their first road game since September 24 of last season. Something had to give. Nobody can run full sprint through a marathon, especially when conditions change so quickly.

So, the Steelers got themselves a breather. They hung through it all, but the damn broke.

Now, we have to see how this team is ready to respond. This is the toughest leg of the regular season and brings the Steelers to an uphill climb that is the NFL playoffs.

They start with the Los Angeles Chargers on primetime. Win or lose against Denver; playoff implications are on the line in this game. Now, they are raised just a bit. They get the Oakland Raiders, which should be a breather but is on the road.

Then, the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints in back to back to weeks. If they can navigate their toughest four-game stretch, they may get another breather against the Bengals in Week 17. That would be ideal to set this team up for one last run of games in the playoffs.

The NFL season is like a marathon. It is about a game of runs and being the hottest team at the end. Home field advantage and seeding helps, but hitting the right peak at the right time is what wins championships in this league. So, the Steelers went on a great run, made up a lot of ground, and put themselves in position to be in the tournament for that final stretch. That leg of the race may have ended with a loss, but it was a tough leg and prepared the team for an even tougher test to come.

We will see how this Steelers team responds. Knowing how past teams and this current team has responded, expect a chance at running all the way through the finish line.

– Parker Hurley is Pittsburgh Steelers team manager of Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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