Sunday, November 13, 2011

Whew ... too close for comfort

Antonio Brown was the offensive star of the game..(photo credit: Getty Images)
Thank goodness for William Gay

Bet you didn't think many Steelers fans would be saying that today. Finally, some defensive takeaways, and Gay's interception late in the fourth quarter couldn't have come at a better time. With just 2:27 left in the game and Cincinnati driving at the Pittsburgh 26, Gay jumped the route on a pass intended for Jerome Simpson and grabbed the interception that saved the game.

Gay also broke up four passes, including one deflected to Lawrence Timmons for an interception. Gay's interception at the end may have saved the Steelers' season. Now 1-2 in the division, the Steelers absolutely had to win in Cincinnati. They did. They survived to compete another day and have the bye week coming up to think about how they can improve.


Improve they must. We shouldn't gripe too much about a win on the road over a division rival riding a five-game winning streak. Lots of Steelers played well: With five receptions for 86 yards, Antonio Brown was the offensive star of the game; Troy Polamalu was all over the place; Lawrence Timmons had a diving interception forced by William Gay; Rashard Mendenhall ran hard; Mike Wallace and Heath Miller made clutch catches; Jericho Cotchery did a passable Hines Ward impression; Max Starks was tremendous; Jeremy Kapinos punted five times for a 50.4 yard average; and, although he took too many sacks, Ben Roethlisberger made plays for the most part, as he passed for 18 first downs. There's something to be said for that.

Where's the killer instinct?
Okay, they won, but do the Steelers lack a killer instinct? Seems a fair question. The Steelers blew a 14-point lead in the third quarter. Maybe it's a stretch to say this was a game the Steelers should have won handily. But ... once again, too many miscues, mistakes and sacks allowed. No sacks made on defense. The Steelers let the Bengals hang around, hang around, and then all of a sudden, the Bengals tied the game at 17-17 with their first drive of the third quarter. The Steelers re-took the lead, but there were the Bengals driving at the end.

Injuries have taken a toll, no doubt. Still, "the standard is the standard," and the Bengals lost two key players to injury during the game.

Give credit: Andy Dalton is an impressive young quarterback, with "leader" written all over him. Dalton, however, missed several open receivers and was just 15-30 for 170 yards. He shows promise, though, as he is decisive, poised and appears to be fundamentally sound. He gets rid of the ball quickly. They call him The Red Rifle, and his arm seems plenty strong enough. He seems likable, too, so it might be hard for Steelers' fans to conjure up much of a healthy dislike for him -- unless he starts beating them regularly, heaven forbid.

A.J. Green's touchdown (photo credit: Reuters)
Speaking of impressive, how about A.J. Green? ... and just what was Troy Polamalu doing on Green's first-quarter touchdown catch? Polamalu didn't play the ball. Perhaps he lost the ball in flight, but he appeared to be looking right at it, tracking it, yet pulled back at the last second before Green snatched it. Ryan Clark got turned around and was falling as the ball arrived. Troy's got to get a hand in there, at least, and break it up, if not intercept that pass ... but who are we to criticize Troy. Other than that glaring miscue, Polamalu played well, especially on run defense.

Clearly, the second-quarter interception that clanked off Heath Miller's hands was not Ben Roethlisberger's fault. The pass was on the money, and Miller is usually reliable. It happens. The Bengals converted the turnover into three points (a 43-yard field goal by Mike Nugent) after a 15-yard drive on seven plays.

Ben dodged a bullet, however, with about 7:30 left in the second quarter, when a sure interception on first down deep in negative territory was bungled in a collision between Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson. It should have been intercepted.The Steelers then drove downfield and kicked the field goal that made the halftime score 17-10.

And how good was Antonio Brown during that field goal drive? Spectacular. Brown was the go-to guy with four catches for 74 yards, including one on 3rd and 19, and several acrobatic catches. No doubt about it, Brown is a rising star.

Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown (photo: Getty Images)
The Bengals have a lot of talent. One guy Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have always watched with interest is nose tackle Domata Peko. Another guy who gets your attention is OLB Manny Lawson. At 6'5", 240, Lawson supposedly has a 72" wingspan and does a 42" vertical jump. Selected by the 49ers as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2006 draft, Lawson washed out in San Francisco, where he was miscast as a defensive end. He's found new life in Cincinnati. He reminds us a little of former Titans linebacker Jevon Kearse, "The Freak," who had a freakish 86" wingspan.

Just as the Steelers have their share of injuries, the Bengals entered the game without their best pass rusher, Carlo Dunlap, inactive with a hamstring injury (just like the Steelers' best pass rusher, Lamarr Woodley). Two more of the Bengals' best players on either side of the ball, A.J. Green and Leon Hall, left the game with injuries, and their absence was felt by the Bengals. Marvin Lewis said as much after the game -- and that's just one difference between him and Mike Tomlin ("No excuses! No complaints!").

Next Up: The bye week, then a game in Kansas City on Nov. 27. More interesting than the week off is next week's game between Cincinnati and Baltimore.

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