It was now or never time for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived Paul Brown Stadium Sunday night as a once proud team licking its wounds, clinging to the hope promised in 2 wins and dreading the dark omens raised in three straight road games lost in the 4th quarter.
Certified NFL bottom feeders, led by quarterbacks whose best days were behind them, had dealt the Steelers two of those losses, ensuring that the sting sunk a little deeper.
- At lot was at stake. This wasn’t just a road game, it wasn’t just another AFC game, it was an AFC North game.
When a 2-3 team finishes the game six, some mathematical realities begin to set in.
- Finish 3-3 and you’re one game away from officially righting the ship.
- 2-4 brings a profoundly altered reality.
You’ve dug a three week hole between your team and the sunny side of .500. And even if you get yourself out, you’ve likely seeded the ability to control your own destiny.
The Steelers took to the field in Cincinnati with a choice between two decidedly different fates. Which one would they choose?
Comedy of Errors That Failed to Be Funny….
In the lead up to the Bengals game, Steel Curtain Rising joked about the fact that a good portion of the team’s injury situation had been created by Steelers tripping over each other (not to single out Marcus Gilbert.)
- Unfortunately, the Steelers took the tripping theme to heart, but not in terms in injuries, but in terms of broken plays.
The Steelers sin for the first 28 minutes of the first half wasn’t to put on a poor performance, it was to put on a mediocre one.
- The defense allowed the Bengals to run with ease
- Mike Wallace committed a number of drive-stalling drops
- Baron Batch dropped a sure-fire touchdown on an otherwise excellently executed reverse flee-flicker
- Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick in the end zone
At the two minute warning the Steelers were lucky to be behind by only eight, and the only real question was, “Would the defense cave again, or would it make a stop?”
“Sometimes the Ball Just Bounces Your Way.”
That oft cited cliché is true enough because randomness does play a factor in sports, just as in life.
- But the simple fact remains that luck means very little if you fail to take advantage.
There’s little question that the ball slipped out of Andy Dalton’s hands but LaMarr Woodley was focused enough to capitalize on that error.
- In the space of just 1:23 the Steelers had gone from under achieving basket case road team tying the game going into the half.
That was all well and good, but the Steelers had been far from kind to themselves during second halves on the road. Could they shake the curse….?
A New 4th Quarter Script
The record will reflect that the Steelers entered the 4th Quarter with the game tied. Chris Rainey changed that with his brilliant 11 yard run courtesy of the road-grading offensive line.
- That put the Steelers up by 7 with all but :44 seconds elapsed in the final period.
- The Steelers, however did something different.
Second, the Steelers actually played defense in the 4th quarter. No heroics, no splash plays, no Polamaluesque game-changing fumbles or interceptions. The Steelers simply played defense, forcing the Bengals to punt on each of their 3 fourth quarter possessions.
The Steelers defense kept the Bengals from making long gains on first and second, and then got off the field on third down. And they did it on three consecutive 4th quarter possessions.
Encouraging to say the least.
The win over the Bengals puts the Steelers at 3-3. It ended a string of fourth quarter melt downs, ended a series of losses to AFC teams, and got the Steelers their first AFC North win.
- But please, no one mistake this for the apocryphal “statement game.”
By definition, no team makes a statement by merely .500. But the Steelers needed a win, and they got one, and that’s a start.