The score: Cincinnati 20, Pittsburgh 10
The headline: BELOW THE LINE: Steelers substandard in ugly loss to Bengals
The bottom line: It’s a triple whammy of despair for Steelers fans. Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough good players to win consistently right now, the good players they do have are not playing well and their coaches’ questionable decisionmaking is making things worse, not better. All that said, Cincinnati was matching Pittsburgh bumble for bumble into the third quarter Monday night when the first flag of the game against the Steelers was a blatantly incorrect and momentum-crushing tripping call on Marcus Gilbert. It looked like the officials seriously discussed picking up the flag but in the end they did the wrong thing and let the penalty which did not happen cost Pittsburgh about 60 yards in field position, something they never recovered from.
Play of the day: On the ensuing drive, Cincy faced a 1st-and-10 at the Steelers 27 and Andy Dalton checked down when Pittsburgh dropped four men deep and the Bengals newest threat – jitterbug RB Giovani Bernard – zigzagged untouched into the end zone to establish a lead his team would never relinquish.
It was over when: On the drive following Bernard’s TD, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd-and-2 from its own 28 and desperately needed to mount a matching drive. Todd Haley dialed up a running play (no surprise there) and pulling guard Ramon Foster bulldozed a path for Redman into the Bengals secondary that should have resulted in an easy first down. Only one problem, Redman inexplicably cut away from Foster and blazed his own path into the arms of two Bengals tacklers who buried him at the 29.
+ There is reason to believe the Steelers can be better and win a handful of games this year. They will eventually get Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell back, although we still have NO IDEA how good Bell is. Mike Tomlin indicated after the game that he’s going to give preseason phenom Markus Wheaton more playing time (which should mean he’ll replace Jericho Cotchery as the teams’ No. 3 receiver, but let’s wait and see if that’s what it actually means). Again, we have no idea how good Wheaton is. Ben Roethlisberger, who looked somewhat detached and disinterested Monday, can play better. Lawrence Timmons can play better.
+ James Harrison’s first appearance in stripes against his old team was heavily built up and proved to be quite a dud as Deebo was virtually invisible in the game and seems lost in Cincy’s 4-3 scheme where most of the pressure is designed to come from the defensive ends.
+ When he had the players to back it up, Mike Tomlin’s verbal eloquence seemed almost mystical. Now that he doesn’t, Steelers fans are quickly losing patience with “Tomlinisms.” Funny how that works.
+ Oh, almost forgot, Fernando Velez was solid in his first game, certainly close to the level Maurkice Pouncey was playing at (which was not as high as many think).
+ In the first half, it looked like Mike Carey’s crew was back to their usual let-‘em-play ways and thankfully so as the only thing that could have made those 30 minutes of football more unwatchable was a bunch of penalties. But the blown tripping call started a rocky second half with three or four questionable calls (or non-calls).
+ We’ll never know about it, of course, but we’re guessing Carey will be firmly told he should have allowed Pittsburgh a final play with :01 remaining inside the Bengals 20. Ben Roethlisberger clearly spiked the ball before the clock hit zeroes. While that play wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it could have dramatically affected the fortunes of thousands of gamblers who took or gave 7 points in the game and the NFL has been ultra-careful about giving any indication that controllable portions of the game are altered. In other words, whether it’s a 1-point or 100-point game or if the line is -1 or -14, one second is one second and another play should have been run.
+ Everyone in black and gold realized they needed to get a play off quickly after David Paulson’s obvious fumble was called down by contact. Everyone, that is, except Todd Haley, who sent it a new personnel group, delaying the snap long enough to allow Marvin Lewis to challenge the play and get a momentum-changing reversal.
+ It’s almost too easy, but how in the world did the Steelers wind up running a reverse to perhaps the slowest skilled player on the roster in Jericho Cotchery?
In the booth:
+ From “the credit where due” file, great research and setup pregame as Tirico noted the last 30 teams to start 0-2 in the NFL have not had a winning record or made the playoffs.
+ Gruden obviously tried, but… Rothelsberger. Rothelsberger. Rothelsberger.
+ Although we’ve already established a three-man announcing team doesn’t work, a quick cut to the booth early in the first quarter showed an eerie James Harrison hologram floating between Tirico and Gruden.
+ Tirico was off base twice regarding rules interpretations. First, he suggested an incomplete Dalton pass late in the first half might actually have been an empty hand. It wasn’t. Then, in the second half, he incorrectly insisted that when a quarterback slides head first they get forward progress, as a regular ball carrier does. They don’t. The ball is dead where the QB goes to the ground.
+ Bad Gruden: “That hamstring has really lingered Polamalu’s play.” Good Gruden: Calling the fade to Derek Moye on the goal line well before Pittsburgh even broke the huddle.
Sweet tweet: “@WillBrinson: 31 first-half passing attempts??? Jay needs to stop trying to impress Jon.” Blogger’s note: It worked, too. Jon was impressed.
Next week: The unbeaten Bears invade Heinz Field behind mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler, who’s led two last-minute, game-winning drives in the season’s first two weeks.