Steelers and Bengals Present Their Greatest Hits
by Ivan Cole
What were your hopes and fears going into this latest edition of Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati? Mine would include the following: A ‘trap game’ type vibe, the possibility of significant injuries to key players, chippyness, meltdowns and outright violence, and finally, black and orange tears along the Ohio River.
What we got with Pittsburgh’s 24-20 victory was all that and a lot more as, like some well-honed vaudeville act, Steelers v. Bengals gave a holiday presentation of some of their greatest hits, plus a few other goodies, as they struggled to an all too familiar conclusion along the banks of the Ohio.
It didn’t take long for some of the most deeply seated fears of Steelers fans to manifest. On the first series of the game, after stuffing the Bengals running game on the first two plays, it looked as if Pittsburgh would put a punctuation mark on their first three and out with an impressive sack by Stephon Tuitt. Unfortunately, Tuitt brought Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton down by this facemask, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. And to add injury to insult, Tuitt left the game at this point with a knee injury, never to return. Dodging that bullet energized the Bengals who then drove to take a 3-0 lead on a Bullock (yes, that Bullock) field goal.
It didn’t take long for Steelers Nation to get that deep, sinking feeling that it could possibly be one of those days. A big return on the ensuing kickoff by Sammie Coates, one of the few wins by the Steelers in the return game this day, brought a measure of temporary relief. The Steelers’ drive would stall (a reoccurring theme of the day) and Chris Boswell would kick his first field goal to tie the score.
“Kicking our own butts.”
That is an exact quote from Head Coach Mike Tomlin describing what the Steelers set out to do throughout the first half. And they were quite good at it as well. Pass interference penalties in the end zone (Artie Burns), penalties that cancelled out touchdowns (Le’Veon Bell), and long field flipping kickoff returns all contributed to the Cincinnati offense looking like world beaters. Thus, the Bengals dropped 20 on Pittsburgh before the half.
Burfict and Company
In ordinary circumstances a team with the talent of the Bengals could have buried the Steelers. But we’re talking about the Bengals here. So just when you were beginning to glumly start to make the calculations of what the Steelers must do to bounce back from this setback and still salvage the playoffs, the Bungles appear and help to provide an emotional lift with some ill-advised, meltdown type behavior.
Remember the question about hopes and fears? Our friend Vontaze provided the full range of Burfictism. Great linebacker play, over the top violence, stupidity and a comeuppance that was the source of great satisfaction. If the Steelers were entertaining the notion of sinking into self-pity, Burfict and his partner in crime, Pacman Jones, were having none of it. Unnecessary roughness and taunting penalties respectively kept drives alive and energized the Steelers, who may have been collectively medicated to keep their responses within acceptable levels.
During this sequence, there was a collision on a play between Burfict and David DeCastro. I’m sure it only appeared as if DeCastro was attempting to simultaneously break Burfict’s neck and crush his skull for good measure. Optical illusion. Anyway, Vontaze had to be escorted off the field, and eventually into the locker room where I suspect that he too was also medicated so that he could participate in the second half.
Let us pause for a moment and note that there are some significant differences between Steelers/Ravens violence which America will be subjected too on Christmas Day at around the dinner hour, and Steelers/Bengals violence. The Ravens variety features a high level of professional brutality that people secretly, guiltily pine for but rarely witness on a consistent basis. Rather like going to a Nascar or Indy race and hoping to see a big crash.
We’re talking Ray Lewis breaking Rashard Mendenhall’s shoulder blade, Hines Ward concussing Ed Reed, Ryan Clark knocking out Willis McGahee. [And don’t forget Haloti Ngata breaking Ben’s nose, either…]
On the other hand, watching the Steelers and the Bengals is like witnessing a mashup of the Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny vs Yosemite Sam. There will be some unnecessary sadistic violence, like Moe poking Curley in the eyes or crushing Larry’s nose with a pair of pliers. And then Sam (Orange, Bengals, get it?), guns blazing, chases Bugs (Steelers) into a rabbit hole, where he will suddenly be faced with the business end of a shotgun or a howitzer. In other words, Sam will almost always be the aggressor, and he will, in the words of Tomlin, end up kicking his own butt. Marvin Lewis will look all the world like Elmer Fudd, and us onlookers, rather than recoil in horror, will laugh in amazement and say “What a maroon!”
It might surprise those who didn’t watch the game that the events previously described would probably only rank as third among the incidents of self-sabotage committed by the Bengals.
Running back Jeremy Hill has always struck me as a high-strung sort of guy. So perhaps we should not be too surprised at what happened when he crossed the end line after scoring Cincinnati’s second touchdown in the second quarter and happened to come across a Terrible Towel. In full view of a television audience that must have included untold thousands of Steelers fans, he proceeded to try to tear the towel apart, and I believe, stomped on it. Then, as if via telepathy, I heard the hosts exclaim ‘Oh no he didn’t!!’
Until that moment Steelers Nation was pretty demoralized, but I am enough in the tank about the mystique of the Towel that I thought the Bengals may have been in serious trouble beginning at just that moment. Someone should have told Hill about the 2008 Titans.
Then we had what I would like to describe as Meltdown 2. The Cincy defense committed four consecutive penalties which contributed to the drive that would result in the winning points for the Steelers. It seemed to me that the Pittsburgh players were suppressing giggles as it was going on. If there was a positive of some sort it would be that the Bengals decisively won the “kick our own butts” competition hands down. One can only imagine the offseason misery that awaits Southern Ohio.
I would be remiss to not mention some shoddy officiating, specifically, two uncalled facemask infractions committed against Antonio Brown and Sammie Coates, both in the end zone.
As for Pittsburgh, going forward the problem areas would be a thinning of the defensive line and whether Ladarius Green, who had some very important catches, can graduate from concussion protocol by Christmas.
Two pieces of very good news to note. First, that the role played by placekicker Chris Boswell was as significant to this effort as Bell’s was against Buffalo last week. Six field goals and a touchdown saving tackle is a pretty good day’s worth of work. And as a side item: Was anyone other than me wondering how it might have felt to have Bullock come in to kick a game tying or winning field goal for the Bengals?
The second piece of good news is that for the first time in three years Le’Veon Bell survived Cincinnati and is an available weapon going forward. The Killer ‘Bs’ are healthy headed into the showdown with the Ravens, and hopefully beyond, a luxury the Steelers haven’t had before. And let’s not forget the continuing outstanding play of Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and his interception, and some clutch catches by Eli Rodgers, including the game winner.
The team has managed to survive all the pitfalls leading to this point. Now it’s time for the main event.