RVR Photos—USA Today Sports
The best game of Week 14, bar none, had to have been the Steelers/Bengals clash in Cincinnati. It began well before the opening kickoff with a breach of the DMZ by notable peacemaker Vontaze Burfict and friends, who doubtless just wanted to make sure the Steelers felt welcome to Paul Brown Stadium. Apparently this friendly gesture was misinterpreted, as were further neighborly overtures during the course of the game. It was no wonder head coach Marvin Lewis was described as “glum” in his press conference. It’s very difficult to feel you’ve been misunderstood, and perhaps lost the game as a result.
Or possibly the glumness could be attributed to the loss of his franchise quarterback, through what could either be described as a “football play” or wildly inadvisable, depending on who is doing the describing. Stephon Tuitt is obviously a highly conditioned athlete, with muscles of steel, and Dalton’s thumb was no match for whatever portion of Tuitt’s anatomy it connected with.
But Dalton was not a victim of the peace process gone amok. A great many other Bengals were. In fact, the Bengals are seemingly getting a season’s worth of injuries in the span of a few short weeks after being remarkably healthy. All I can say is, we Steelers fans know all about how frustrating this is.
The end result was satisfactory from the Steelers point of view—a convincing win, with not a lot of collateral damage. The win was absolutely necessary, as the two teams positioned in front of the Steelers in the wild-card race both won on Sunday as well. However, for the first time since the loss to the Seahawks (or really, the earlier loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field) the faint possibility of the division title tantalizingly presents itself. It would still require essentially everything to fall the Steelers’ way, but it is a lot more possible than it was a week ago. All I ask is that it doesn’t come down to a Ryan Succop field goal and correct officiating…
While the Bengals’ remaining schedule is not particularly difficult, it will be interesting to see whether the “starter vs. off-the-bench QB” effect holds for young A.J. McCarron. By this I mean that a young QB can be relatively successful coming off the bench and playing a defense who has absolutely no idea what he is like. But a game’s worth of tape gives the next defense something to work with, and a week to prepare.
As for the Ravens and Browns, they were .500. The Ravens are now down to their third quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, and he was ineffective against the Seahawks, or so the final score of 35-6 would indicate. On the other hand, the Johnny Manziel-led Browns slapped 24 points on the 49ers. They are scarcely alone, though. The 49ers have given up an average of close to 23 points per game, while scoring an average of just over 14 themselves.
For what it’s worth, if the season ended today the Browns would have a top-3 pick (depending on the esoteric formulas used to divide them from the Titans and Chargers, the other 3-10 teams) and the Ravens would pick somewhere between № 4 and № 7, again depending on the way the NFL weights the relative claims of the 4-9 Lions, 49ers, Cowboys and Ravens. The Bengals would pick at № 28 or 29, the Steelers somewhere between № 22 and № 26. Naturally, I’m hoping the Steelers pick at № 32, but there’s a lot of football left.