Week 3 Recap: Busted By The Bengals

This is getting old real fast.

The Cincinnati Bengals stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with a come-from-behind 23-20 victory on Sunday. This marks the second loss in as many weeks for the World Champions. It’s also the second week in a row where the Black and Gold came out of the tunnel like Superman and walked off the field as Clark Kent. Teams have finally learned the best way to prevent a patented Ben Roethlisberger comeback is to have him watching from the sidelines until only a few seconds are left.

Once again, this game looked to be a blowout in the early going. The Bengals had -10 yards of total offense in the first quarter. They moved the ball better in the second once they discovered the weakness in our secondary, which would be anybody not named Ike Taylor. At halftime their offensive output totaled around 100 yards. However, they still only managed to put 3 points on the board.

Meanwhile, the Steelers were having little trouble generating offense. Fast Willie Parker looked great, rushing for 73 yards (he’d finish with 93) plus a couple catches, one for a 27 yard TD. When not opening up holes for FWP, the much criticized offensive line was providing Ben (22/31 276 yds) with plenty of pass protection. LB Antwan Odom, who has 7 sacks this season, wasn’t much of a factor. The Bengals only sacked Ben once, which was more his fault than the line’s.

Despite going into halftime with a 13-3 lead, I saw storm clouds on the horizon. When you get an opponent down in the NFL, you have to step on their throat. Otherwise, they get up and bite you. The Steelers wasted golden opportunities to put points on the board, settling instead for chip shot Skippy Reed FGs. First, they had a 3rd and goal from the 1 and couldn’t get one measly yard. Then they failed to punch it home after three shots from the Cincy 10 yard line.

When the third quarter began, disaster struck immediately. The Steelers had the ball but it was Cincy who drew First Blood.  Santonio Holmes had the mother of all brainfarts by not running back toward his quarterback on a blitz.  Whoever thinks pot doesn’t kill brain cells, I give you Exhibit A.

Holmes had a horrific game. Last week, our Super Bowl MVP blamed his butterfingers on either a wrist injury or a slippery ball (take your pick). This week, he continued to drop easy catches. He also failed to get his feet down in bounds on what would’ve been a big gain.  The icing on the cake was his failure to recognize the aforementioned blitz and come back toward Ben which lead to the game changing INT-TD. In fact, Holmes had all of 1 catch for 18 yards. Although when he made that one stinkin’ catch, he made sure to celebrate. Nicely done, putz.

The Steelers attempted to answer immediately. Stefan Logan started them off with a 56 yard kickoff return. Then Big Ben hit a wide open Limas Sweed right on the hands with a beautiful touchdow… WHAT THE HELL!?! HOW DO YOU DROP THAT?! Yes, good old Limas once again showed he can beat any DB in the league only to fail when it comes to the minor detail of actually CATCHING THE DAMN BALL!!

On their next drive, Ben took matters into his own hands, scoring on a QB sneak to give the Steelers a commanding 20-9 lead. Rookie WR Mike Wallace made a nice 16 yard reception on that drive.  He didn’t celebrate, though, as evidently he hasn’t learned to be a douchebag yet. Wallace had a star-making performance in catching 7 passes for 102 yards, highlighted by a 51 yard bomb in the second quarter. Nice to see we have at least one young player who doesn’t totally blow.

Speaking of which, Rashard Mendenhall didn’t play yesterday. By my count, his last official carry was the 39 yarder in the third quarter of the Bears game. Phil Simms on commentary inferred that Mike Tomlin was punishing him for something. I’d like to tell you more but the Steelers P.R. Department local sports media never bothered to mention anything about this in their coverage of the team.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bengals RB Cedric Benson broke loose for a 23 yard TD run which narrowed Pittsburgh’s lead to 20-15. Who got taken completely out of the play to clear a path for Benson?  Why it was 2008 first round pick Lawrence Timmons! Benson only had 76 rushing yards, yet he averaged a whopping 4.8 per carry against what used to be a stout run defense.  Timmons is one of the primary culprits as he’s shown no ability to shed blocks, shoot the gaps, and make tackles.

I probably shouldn’t single out L.T. Our defense played poorly as a unit. The Bengals got the ball with 5 minutes left and started from their own 29 yard line. This is where your normally dominant Steeler D would shut the door.  Instead, Carson Palmer methodically drove his team down the field, aided by the utter ineptitude of Tyrone Carter and William Gay.  Yes, I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t bring myself to mock Gay because he’s such a tool.  Look, last year’s D had one of the best single seasons in NFL history. Even though most of the players remain, nobody could realistically expect a duplicate performance.

But it is realistic to expect an effort befitting a championship level team. I have yet to see one. They had 2 sacks yesterday, which doubles the output for the entire season. James Harrison, who had 16 last year, finally registered his first of 2009. Where are our other linebackers? Who knows. I’m ready to change Mister LaMarr Woodley‘s nickname to the Invisible Man. Where are the fumbles? Where are the INTs? The defense has created two turnovers, both in week 1.

Face Me Ike was the only player who looked like a champion yesterday. Matched against Chad Whatshisname, he pretty much took him out of the action. In the final couple minutes, he almost single-handedly saved the game for the Steelers.  Ike made a tremendous play getting a hand on Ocho to break up a sure TD.  Then he made an even better play, diving to deflect a TD pass over the middle. Unfortunately, his heroics only postponed the inevitable.

Twice Cincy had fourth downs. Twice they converted, the backbreaker being a 4th and 10 conversion to Brian Leonard on a short dump off. The game-winning TD was also a short pass right to the middle of the endzone. James Farrior was doing his best to cover speedy Reche Caldwell. I thought the point of having Timmons was he’s some freaky athlete who can run like one of those prized bucks that Pennsylvanian rednecks spend their weekends shooting?  Why 85 year old James Farrior is covering WRs instead of spry young Timmons is anybody’s guess.

This team, right now, is not very good. Good teams do not lose 4th quarter leads twice to teams that most do not think will be post-season contenders. The coaching staff is twiddling their thumbs instead of making smart adjustments. The playcalling is atrocious.  The players aren’t executing.  Can anybody name one player who has strung together three good games except maybe Mike Wallace?  If we went 9-7 and missed the post-season or were dumped in the 1st round this wouldn’t be a big deal. But they’re the defending champs and right now they’re certainly not playing like it.

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  • andrew

    Just wanna say, I blame Tomlin most of all.

    You go for it on 4th and a half yard to start the game. Taking the pussy FG then is a horrible decision. Especially, when he would later go for two 4th down sneaks, and GET them. You have a 2 yard tall quarterback, make him get in there.

    The run game calling at the end was pure Cowher football, except without the Power Cowher run game. Stupid stupid stupid.

    And skippy reed had the distance, but hooked what would have been a big deal. Granted, a 52 yarder is never a gimme, but he could have hit it.

    Pretty sick feeling in the stomach. We need Troy Polamalu or our defense will suck more.

  • terrry hammer

    so they blew fourth quarter leads the last two weeks and now they have to play a real team….tomlin looked really cool in those shades (maybe he couldn’t read teh scoreboard) and his sideline karma is terrific. let’s not disturb him by letting him know his team is 1-2. he coaches in pittsburgh where all things are forgiven and the sportswriters act like they’re on the steelers payroll. put him in new england and post the same results and his comfort level would have disappeared about week ago.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Andrew, I agree with your criticisms of Tomlin. He’s never shown himself to be particularly great at managing a game. Even back to his first season when he blew that playoff game against JAX by going for like a billion 2 pt conversions. There are a lot of times when I have no idea what he’s thinking when he makes his decisions.

    And Terry, I don’t think we totally overreact and start talking about Tomlin being a terrible coach because of 2 losses. However, you’re right that he doesn’t seem as upset with the level of play as he should be. Cowher would’ve drown half the defense in spit after seeing some of those blown coverages.

  • Robyn

    Was it just me, or were the refs gunning for Hines Ward all game? Any time he touched anyone, it was a penalty. Pass Interference when you block a guy AFTER the receiver caught the ball??? WTF!!

  • http://andbabymakesfourperrine.blogspot.com/ Kati

    I am going to be honest.. I didn’t even bother reading your entire post.. because I actually got the game this weekend (damn Cleveland).. it was EMBARRASSING. Plain and simple….

    Robyn.. Hines seems to be getting an awful lot of penalties this season.. really.. its annoying.

    On the topic of Mike Tomlin.. I have said it before.. I am NO football expert.. I know barely enough to get through the game.. really.. but I like him. He is a very personable person and really.. he has a superbowl title after just a few years as a head coach.. that is more than many coaches who have been in the game for 10-15-20 years.. he obviously knows what he is doing.

  • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

    Robyn, you’re right, I thought there were at least 3 really ticky-tacky calls against Hines. Actually, as Kati pointed out, Hines has been getting flagged left and right this season. The NFL passed a bunch of rules during the offseason which they should have called the “We Hate Hines Ward Rules” because every one made stuff he’s known for illegal.

    And yet, the next time the refs make a bad call in the our favor, you’ll see 400 bitter fans from other NFL cities (particularly Seattle) whine about how the NFL always favors the Steelers.