It all seemed too easy. Well, not really easy mind you because it never is with our Pittsburgh Steelers but a couple of wins turned into a few more. Then a few more and then, before you knew it, the Steelers were 11-0. But even then, the most casual of football fans could see things weren’t quite right. The injuries were mounting and the offense was sputtering and then it all finally caught up with them. There was hope however in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals who most certainly wouldn’t stop the Steelers from winning the AFC North would they? They sure as hell did and in doing so they brought the Steelers to rock bottom and they’ve brought their fans to their knees as well.
Despite all of the injuries to the defense -Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, Robert Spillane et al – the unit was still surviving. But you can only bail water from a sinking boat for so long before she finally sinks. The offense has been that boat and on this Monday evening in Cincinnati she slipped beneath the waters. Think about it. Marcus Allen has been forced to play linebacker. This is a guy who rarely even got a helmet on Sundays and yet he’s expected to save the day. No one could fault his effort but he was overmatched and the Bengals exposed he and fellow linebacker Avery Williamson at every opportunity. Despite all of that, they gave their sputtering offense a chance and they were rewarded with one of the more ugly four and outs we’ve ever seen from a future Hall of Fame quarterback. With that, the game was over.
Speaking of Ben Roethlisberger, his first half was as bad as I can ever remember. He had 19 yards passing and an interception. Frankly, there were at least three or four other balls that should have been picked off. Roethlisberger also fumbled a snap costing his team points in the first half as well. Sitting him, even for just a series, would have been fine by me. He wasn’t able to hit a receiver for his life and looked every bit a 38-year old quarterback with a rebuilt elbow who takes wednesdays off each week.
Big Ben recovered somewhat in the second half but he never really made the Bengals nervous. Most of that was due to the fact that Roethlisberger’s offensive line couldn’t keep the Bengals from him all night. Carl Lawson made Al Villanueva look like a turnstile at your local minor league ball park. Chuks Okorafor plays with the aggression of a church mouse and even David DeCastro who was selected to yet another Pro Bowl looked more like a bear on roller skates than a rugged offensive lineman. This offense just isn’t good. Defenses have found the formula for beating it and Randy Fichtner hasn’t found the potion to change that.
Make no mistake, Fichtner has been awful this year but this loss tonight wasn’t on him. There were numerous plays there for the taking but whether it was due to Big Ben not having the arm strength or the offensive line not keeping defenders away from him, the execution was laughable. There was one silver lining and I mean this is the most sincere way possible. Dionate Johnson looked like his old self again. He didn’t have any drops and made several tough catches but he and Chase Claypool couldn’t do it alone. JuJu Smith-Schuster at one point late in the game had three catches for 15 yards. I’m guessing that won’t do much for his followers count on Tik Tok though.
This team had every reason to be ready tonight. A division title on the line. A chance to keep it from both Cleveland and Baltimore and an opportunity to right the ship. None of those things happened and all that remain are questions. We’ll never get the answers because that’s not what Mike Tomlin does. He’ll spew a litany of cliches and then Roethlisberger will stand in front of his locker wondering if he shouldn’t hang’em up.
The Steelers had so much promise but now find themselves at rock bottom. I’m not sure there’s a rescue party coming either.
Photo courtesy post-gazette.com