Well, that was unexpected…
A week after a miserable showing against the Saints, the Pittsburgh Steelers went out and crushed the Cincinnati Bengals 42-21 to tighten the race in both the AFC North and AFC Playoffs. How convincing was this victory? So convincing Andy Dalton watched the final five minutes from the sideline after Marvin Lewis all but threw in the towel.
Of course, if the Black and Gold hold to 2014 form, I fully expect them to crap the bed next week in Atlanta.
In the meantime, we can bask in one of the more satisfying victories in recent years. This was an odd game in that it almost defies any one description. Early on, it was a tight defensive battle – although a lot of that “defense” was a by-product of two inept offenses seeing who could out putz the other. Eventually things opened up and the teams started going up and down the field like an ArenaBall game. Then the fourth quarter came and the Steelers unleashed a tsunami of offense we haven’t seen since that crazy five minutes in Houston.
Once again, we were treated to the Le’Veon Bell Show and it was glorious. Bell had 26 carries for 185 yards while adding another 6 catches for 50 yards just because he needed a few more touches. In my mind, he has officially usurped Shady McCoy and Arian Foster as the games premier weapon at RB. There is literally nothing he can’t do on a football field.
Although I have to give a special mention to the offensive line – David DeCastro in particular played the best game of his career. They did a fantastic job of opening up gaping holes all afternoon with DeCastro straight up burying people as a pulling guard on a sweep. The offensive line gelled toward the end of last season and if they follow that pattern this year, a lot of defensive lineman are gonna have sleepless nights.
As good as the Steelers offense looked, their defense looked that bad. The secondary play yesterday was utterly atrocious. The Steelers put Ike Taylor on AJ Green hoping he could recapture some of his past magic. He couldn’t. When Ike wasn’t getting burned, the safeties were either beat or out of position or both. I don’t know what happened to Mike Mitchell but he’s reverted back to the guy who seems absolutely clueless as to where he should be going once the ball is snapped. At one point the cameras actually caught Troy Polamalu directing him where to go all the way down the field – not that it helped as Green still hauled in a 56 yard bomb that set up the Bengals first touchdown.
Late in the game, Ike was replaced by Antwon Blake due to “injury.” One can only hope it’s the same “injury” that has Cortez Allen buried so far on the bench even Landry Jones can’t see him. Blake immediately made a couple nice plays against Green and while I am in no way suggesting Blake is a hidden superstar, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t do much worse than the 11 catches for 224 yards (?!?!?!?!) Ike was primarily responsible for. If Blake, Brice McCain, and Willie Gay aren’t your three primary corners from here on out, the coaching staff has their head up their ass.
The Steelers went into half down 14-10 after the aforementioned TD following the Green bomb and another TD drive where Gay picked off Dalton but the referees bailed him out with a ticky tack penalty. I swear, the zebras save Cincy more often than Joey Marella saved Hulk Hogan. After wiping out Gay’s pick, the defense lost track of the Red Rifle and he rumbled 20 yards straight up the gut for a TD. The Steelers put together a nice drive to close the half but settled for a field goal after bogging down inside the Cincy 5 where they were stuck throwing three ugly pass plays because they didn’t have any time outs left.
In the third quarter, the Steelers put together a nice touchdown drive dominated by the Killer Bs – Bell and Antonio Brown (9 catches 117 yards). AB caught two 12 yarders and a 32 yarder to get them down the field while Bell capped it with a 10 yard TD catch. The good vibes were short-lived, though, as our damnable secondary let Green get loose for an 81 yard TD. This time Ike and Mitchell teamed up to blow the coverage and I’m only shocked that the combined power of their suckage didn’t create a vortex that scooped up half the midwest and deposited it in the merry old land of Oz.
The offense tried to respond as the fourth quarter began but – say it with me now – bogged down inside the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. All this talk of Bell’s workload and wearing him down, I’d be more concerned about them wearing out Shaun Suisham‘s leg what with all the field goals they kick. It was a nice answer although I’d wager Steeler Nation still had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. We’ve seen this story too many times before.
Then Arthur Moats flipped the script. Moats, playing in place of injured James Harrison, snatched a fumbled fake hand-off away from Dalton like he was stealing candy from some red-headed demon child. That turnover seemed to ignite the offense as Bell blew through the defense for a 13 yard score three plays later. The defense held – thanks to three good plays by Blake – but their punter pinned us back at our own 6 yard line. And then it happened…
First play from deep in their own territory, Ben Roethlisberger rared back and fired a bomb to a streaking Martavis Bryant. He hit Bryant in stride and Bryant cruised down the field for an epic 94 yard touchdown. It was the second longest pass play in team history, eclipsed only by the memorable Ben to Mike Wallace 95 yarder back in ’11. There was nothing fancy about the play, Bryant simply bolted straight down the field and nobody could catch him. Still, it was a magnificent moment, a perfect throw, a perfect catch and a brilliant – and extremely ballsy – call by Todd Haley.
Cincy never recovered. They seemed utterly deflated when they came out on offense, then rookie Stephon Tuitt (replacing Brett Keisel, who is out for the season) obliterated Dalton, forcing him to leave the game. Even though he’d return briefly, after that the Bengals just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. Bell ripped off a 22 yard touchdown run on the Steelers next possession to put the icing on the cake — and make some Fantasy owners very very happy.
The Steelers have some good wins this season, the Indy game comes to mind, although this one being against a division opponent and one we’re locked in a direct playoff race to boot – not to mention, it’s the Bungles! – has to be by far the most satisfying. More importantly, it makes the final three weeks of the season a real race to the end. Cincy has Denver and Cleveland before seeing us again in the finale. Meanwhile, we have Atlanta and KC. A lot can happen between now and Christmas weekend but if the Black and Gold wanted any chance of stealing the North, they had to sweep Cincy. They rose to the occasion this week – answering the bell, if you will – let’s hope that momentum can carry them to the finish line.