As I was watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals in the second of their 2-game Divisional matchup, three things came to mind as the game came to a close: 1. The Steelers and Bengals have been playing two times a year since 1970 2. The Bengals are eventually self-destructing 3. Consequences in disrespecting the Terrible Towel.
Now mind you, it didn’t take place in that order, (well, at least after the first point) but the result was the same: The Bengals undoing became the Steelers doing as they overcame a 17-3 deficit and themselves to beat the Bengals 24-20. I have to admit, I have seen some great Steeler comebacks, and this one ranks right along with the others, especially the ones against the Bengals. You know the ones:
2005 AFC Wild Card Game: The Steelers trailed 17-7 and came back to beat the Bengals 31-17. Starter Carson Palmer gets knocked out of the game by gentlemanly DE Kimo Von Olhoffen, the ball snaps over the Bengals kicker’s head the Steelers recover, and then score 28 unanswered points for the victory. As you well know, that Steelers team would eventually win Super Bowl 40.
2014 season: The Steelers trail the Bengals 21-17 and were getting torched by WR AJ Green who had 194 yards on the defense, but they would come back to score 24 unanswered points to beat the Bengals 42-21. On the final game of the season with both teams tied for first place in the AFC North Division, the Steelers would beat the Bengals 27-22 to win the division and eliminate the Bengals.
2015 AFC Wild Card Game: The Steelers trailed 16-15 with over a minute left in the game, the Bengals had just intercepted backup QB Landry Jones (Starter Ben Roethlisberger was injured) and all they needed to do was run out the clock and win their first playoff game since 1991. But as Lee Corso says “Not so fast, my friend…” Steelers LB Ryan Shazier stripped Bengals RB Jeremy Hill of the ball, the Steelers recover, Roethlisberger returns to lead the Steelers down the field; he fires a ball intended for WR Antonio Brown which sails over his head, but Brown’s head was smacked hard by Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict resulting in a 15-yard penalty. Then CB Adam ‘Pac Man’ Jones gets a called for a penalty for bumping Steelers LB Coach Joey Porter, resulting in another 15-yard penalty, putting them deep into FG range. K Chris Boswell nails the game-winner, the Steelers advance to the Divisional Round.
And finally, this game in which the Steelers looked lost and out-of-sync, while the Bengals looked like they were interested in holding onto their slim playoff hopes as they showed up to Paul Brown Stadium ready to play the red-hot Steelers, winners of 4 in a row. The Bengals scored on their first four possessions while the Steelers were only able to generate 9 points to the Bengals 20 as the first half came to a close.
What mostly hurt the Steelers in that first half was the defense, which looked a lot like the unit that was responsible for their five losses. That unit missed a lot of tackles and caused two costly penalties, one by DE Stepheon Tuitt as he grabbed the facemask of Bengals QB Andy Dalton, which leads to their opening FG by former Steelers K Randy Bullock. And then the second one by Steelers rookie CB Artie Burns as he bumped a WR in the endzone, which eventually led to a 1-yard QB sneak by Dalton. They would eventually score another on a 4-yard run by Hill who celebrated, picked up a Terrible Towel, spat on it, and stomped on it. Uh-oh, that’s a big no-no.
You would think that the Bengals would learn a lesson about disrespecting the Terrible Towel, after all, former Bengal WR TJ Houshmandzadeh was the first Bengal to disrespect the Towel when he wiped his feet with it. After beating the Steelers in a regular-season game in 2005, and then Tennessee Titans RB LenDale White used the Towel as a bib after beating the Steelers in 2008.
But alas, Hill did disrespect the Towel while celebrating his TD, all was well in the world for the Bengals, and the Steelers looked as shell-shocked as they did when Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott ran over them to win several weeks before.
Steeler fans said that Hill’s disrespect would be the Bengals undoing. In fact CBS analyst (and former Steelers HC Bill Cowher said “That’s disrespectful” when watching what Hill did. I said to myself” That disrespect doesn’t matter because the Steelers were still down 20-9. But when the 3rd quarter began, the other thing happened: The Bengals began to self-destruct.
You would think that Burfict would learn his lesson after the playoff game, which warranted him a 4-game suspension to start this season. You would think that Pac-Man Jones would stay away from the late hits and the meltdowns, but no..both players apparently hadn’t learned how to behave, especially when their team was winning by that 20-9 margin.
Burfict head-butt Big Ben for a penalty, while Jones was part of a few more penalties which enabled the Steelers to put more points on the board, and then Dalton did his part in the self-destruction when he fired a pass that was intercepted by Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons, his second in 3 weeks. All of a sudden, the Bengals looked like the team that lost seven games, and the Steelers started looking like the team that won 4 straight.
The Problem was, the Steelers offense still had problems getting the ball into the endzone. To the Bengals credit, they weren’t trying to get away from the receivers and were close to intercepting 2 of Big Ben’s passes. But then on their first 4th quarter drive, the Steelers finally got the ball into the end zone as Big Ben started playing like Big Ben and getting the ball vertically down the field. He eventually hit paydirt when he fired a 24-yard pass to WR Jordan Rogers for a 24-20 lead, which was the final score.
Once again, history repeats itself. Bengals self-destruct, the Steelers capitalize and win the game. Boswell kept them in it, and Big Ben won it. Folks were expecting another repeat performance of Le’Veon Bell and his 236 yards, but it wasn’t that kind of game. He did rush for 93 yards, which wasn’t bad, but this game belonged to Big Ben, who got it done when they needed him to.
The defense got themselves together as well as they didn’t give up a single point in the second half. That was pretty impressive. A tale of two teams, that’s for sure.
As a result, the Steelers are now 9-5 and still have a one-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North after the Ravens beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-26. I knew it would come down to their Christmas Day matchup when the Ravens come to Pittsburgh. It will decide the division. To be honest, they should flex that game from 4:30 to 8:30 pm.
Boswell’s six field goals tied a Steelers record set by Gary Anderson and Jeff Reed. Big Ben passed for 286 yards and the TD, and Rogers led with 75 yards on five receptions and the TD. The Steelers 5th straight win eliminated the Bengals from playoff contention as they fell to 5-8-1. Sad to say, the Bengals latest self-destruction may lead to the end of HC Marvin Lewis’ job, which is a shame, because he’s been their best coach since Sam Wyche. Kudos to Steelers HC Mike Tomlin who secured another winning record in his ten-year coaching career.
The Steelers were fortunate to win this game because a slow start can prove to be their undoing, but they became great when they needed to be, thanks to the self-destruction of the Bengals, who will hopefully learn from this, but most folks sincerely doubt it.
Notes: Tomlin said that Steelers TE LaDarius Green is in concussion protocol after getting hit hard after catching a huge 4th quarter pass from Big Ben. Tuitt didn’t finish the game, but he had had no crutches or brace as he reportedly left the locker room.
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