Last week, I was so angry, sad, and disappointed by the Steelers loss that I couldn’t even write a recap. I was downtrodden. If a single play in that game went the other way, the Steelers would’ve won. It was one of those losses that was unbelievably tough to swallow. The image of Charles Clay escaping both Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen to score a touchdown haunted me. I tried to will time to go backwards and keep Antonio Brown’s little toe inbounds. I had one of those “why do I even care?” moments that every sports fan goes through after their team suffers a particularly brutal defeat.
Despite all that, I had decided shortly after the Miami game that I would attend the Bengals game. Though the game was essentially meaningless for the Steelers, I had decided to go for the sheer joy of attending a December primetime game in Pittsburgh. It’d be cold, it’d be brutal, and it’d leave me questioning my sanity yet again.
In short, it’s what I live for as a football fan.
I’d figured I’d go for the hell of it. I wasn’t expecting much from the game. I didn’t expect the Steelers to fold or quit—in fact, that thought never entered my mind. I knew they’d come out strong and well prepared. And I wasn’t quite convinced that Andy Dalton could beat the Steelers twice in one season. But with the way the defense has played lately, coupled with the anemic offensive performance against the Bengals earlier this season, I couldn’t have anticipated anything like what happened last night.
That was some damn good football the Steelers played.
Some Steelers fans may be wondering where this was in September. Some may be cursing them for not tanking the rest of the season to get a better draft position. Unlike those fans, I am fully reveling in this win. It was a great game. Maybe it is too little too late, but instead of being focused on that, I’d rather focus on the game at hand.
How good does this offense look? Ben threw for just 191 yards, but had an astounding 80% completion rate. He was sacked just once behind an offensive line that again had injuries. Antonio Brown continues to make big play after big play. Le’Veon Bell had over 100 yards combined rushing and receiving. Taking an early 21-point lead didn’t hurt either. Some may say the offense has gotten better since Ben has been calling the plays so much; that’s true, they’ve looked much better in the no-huddle. But a lot of people overlook that Todd Haley is designing the plays Ben is calling. Can’t see Haley getting the ax in the offseason when the offense is playing like this.
The defense played better, though the score got a little too close for comfort. But they made tackles instead of missing them, which was certainly an improvement from last week’s game. Al Woods’ name was called a number of times, and it was nice to see him step up in Steve McLendon’s absence. It’s also amazing how much better this defense looks when Troy plays strong safety instead of inside linebacker. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen also had nice games, keeping AJ Green from being much of a factor.
Special teams looked pretty good as well. Will Allen made a nice play on a bad snap on a punt, leading to the Steelers getting the ball at Cincinnati’s one-yard line. Bell scored two plays later. AB returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown, his first return touchdown this season.
Mike Tomlin even won both challenges last night, something I can’t recall happening for quite some time.
The Steelers obviously played well in all three phases of the game, and it was as encouraging of a game as I’ve seen them play all season. The Bengals made some mistakes and had some questionable play calling themselves, but the Steelers got the win. That’s all that matters at this point.
I’m not operating under the assumption that the Steelers will make the playoffs, but I am encouraged by some things as they head into in the offseason in a few weeks.
If you’re a Steelers fan, you have to feel pretty good about the direction this offense is headed. If Ben stays upright, AB keeps being explosive, and Le’Veon runs hard, the sky is the limit for this offense. Some may laugh, but I really believe it.
Though the defense played better last night, I still feel that most of the problems with this team lie with them. That’s where the big turnover will be this offseason. It’ll be interesting (and probably heartbreaking) to see who stays and who goes.
This team still has a lot of question marks surrounding it, but they’ve got two more games to go before the 2013 season is said and done. Let’s hope they play just as well as they did last night.