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.