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When the 2018 NFL schedule was released in the spring, Atlanta’s trip to Pittsburgh on the first Sunday in October looked like a potential Super Bowl preview.

Then September happened and the lofty preseason expectations evaporated, replaced by an unruly and unpredictable reality.

Pittsburgh All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell extended his franchise-tag-induced sabbatical indefinitely, wide receiver Antonio Brown couldn’t stop making headlines for things that had little to do with football and the revamped Steelers secondary spent far too much time chasing opponents to the end zone. Atlanta, meanwhile, couldn’t stop sending defensive starters to the trainer’s room or finding excruciating ways to drop close games.

The Steelers (1-2-1) and the Falcons (1-3) both stress that panicking with three-quarters of the season to go is unwise even with both clubs in highly competitive divisions.

“[We] don’t want to look down the road about things that are two or three weeks away,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “The mindset of just own now man, own this week.”

Maybe Quinn should settle for his team owning the final minutes. Atlanta has led in the fourth quarter in all of its three losses. But at least the Falcons have been close; the Steelers, not so much. Pittsburgh has not held the lead at any point in each of its past three games at Heinz Field.

“Last year we kind of started a little sloppy, too, so you know you guys can look at records all you want, we’re not,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’re looking at this next week and trying to get a win because that’s all that really matters.”

Roethlisberger is right. Sort of. The Steelers have been sluggish in September under coach Mike Tomlin but round into form as the days grow shorter and the temperature drops. Tomlin is 30-13 in October in his career, and a year ago Pittsburgh began a sluggish 3-2, then ripped off eight straight wins on its way to a second consecutive AFC North title.

Not that Tomlin’s players are looking for comfort in the idea that they’ve been here before and gotten it together in time to reach the postseason.

“I want to be great all the way around,” Steelers centre Maurkice Pouncey said. “I don’t even like assumptions like that.”

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