The Pittsburgh Steelers actually managed to not keep things close playing against division opponent the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Bengals fighting for their playoff lives, this game certainly didn't go how many were expecting it to. For the Steelers, after the sloppy win last Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, one would think that with the playoffs on the line and these two teams being crazy rivals and all, this would be a close game.
Instead, all facets of the Steelers team looked fresh and revitalized, which is especially important with a short week coming up, facing the Cleveland Browns this Thursday night. I don't get the NFL Network, so the fact I have to go out for it makes me pretty annoyed, and it also feels weird watching football on a Thursday night, but go out for it I will.
The Steelers' second quarter was one of the best I've ever seen. They were up 28-7 at halftime. Rashard Mendenhall, who's had an up and down season, had touchdown runs of 3 and 5 yards, while Antonio Brown had a huge 60-punt yard return, the first in something like 78 games! Mike Wallace had a touchdown reception too, as well as one in the second half, the only score in the half. It also helped the Steelers that Cincinnati committed 6 penalties for 80 yards in the first half (they had 10 penalties for 109 yards through all four quarters); one took away a touchdown and another took away a field goal, which was later blocked. Can't tell you the last time I've seen a blocked field goal AND a TD punt return in a Steelers game...
Brown was definitely one of the superstars. He kick-started the first scoring drive, after he received a short pass and turned it into a 45-yard play. Of course he also had the punt return. There was a scary moment when he was hit hard late in the game, but it was kind of worth it to watch his teammates make fun of him for lifting up his jersey for whatever reason after getting the wind knocked out of him. Thank goodness he's okay.
If you want to get even more into how the special teams helped win this game, Cincinnati's Brandon Tate fumbled the kickoff after Stevenson Sylvester hit him. Emmanuel Sanders recovered after what seemed like 10 minutes of separating the pile-up of players. Ben Roethlisberger, who went 15 for 23 for 176 yards and 2 TDs, threw one of those TDs to Mike Wallace. (Wallace also broke something like five tackles for his second TD catch.) The only gaffe on special teams was a missed 50-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, but it pretty much had no effect on the outcome.
Twenty-eight points scored in the second quarter? Can't they do this every week?
Andy Dalton, on the other hand, went 11 for 24 for 135 yards and a touchdown, the Bengals' lone score of the game. He threw an 11-yard pass to AJ Green who was in the back of the endzone in the second quarter, and that'd be it for the poor Bangles.
Things were so unexciting that both Dalton and Roethlisberger were pulled in the fourth quarter. Speaking of Roethlisberger, his final completion, which was a 9-yard pass to tight end David Johnson in the fourth quarter, was the 2,026th of his career. He broke Terry Bradshaw's record with that one. But it was great seeing old reliable Charlie Batch take the helm after pulling Ben. He didn't make a completion and was sacked, but I still love me some Charlie. He's a great guy in general and I constantly want to hug him. Bruce Gradkowski stepped in for Dalton after Dalton was sacked hard by James Harrison and Brett Keisel, aka The Beard. Since the game was pretty much decided by that point, I don't blame Dalton for not wanting to face those guys for any more time than absolutely necessary.
Isaac Redman also contributed to the win, rushing for 51 yards on 8 attempts. Mewelde Moore had a nice 13-yard run and we even got to see Jonathan Dwyer go 8 yards on 3 carries in the fourth quarter. Antonio Brown had 2 catches for 67 yards, Mike Wallace had 3 for 38 and of course 2 TDs, Hines Ward seemed to be back to his old self with 5 catches for 30 yards, and everyone on offense seemed to be in balance. Ward also made the record books, becoming the 19th player in the NFL to rack up 12,000 yards receiving. These wins just wouldn't be the same without his famous smile. I know, it's cheesy, but I was slightly annoyed how Hines was getting less and less playing time, but that seems to be resolved at this point.
On defense, James Harrison had 3 sacks and Ike Taylor intercepted Gradkowski early in the fourth quarter. Cedric Benson only rushed for 52 yards on 13 carries. Hell, they only let the Bengals score 7 points the entire game! Shall we now put this "old defense" argument to rest? Well, at least until next week. And best of all: The Steelers didn't commit any turnovers. It was a solid win against a solid rival. As a Steelers fan, it was a fun (maybe slightly boring?) one to watch. Everything seemed to click.
As far as how it's going to go against the Cleveland Browns, at this point, who the heck knows. This team tends to rise to the occasion and play up or down to their opponents, but sloppy wins have been more their forte than these blow-outs. I'm actually expecting a relatively close game against the Brownies, as the Steelers may be very confident coming off this win and the Browns pretty much have nothing to lose and would love to beat their rivals to make the playoff race more interesting. Only four more games in the regular season left! I'm certain the Steelers will make the playoffs, but I really would prefer not seeing the Baltimore Ravens for a third time. Right now, I'll relish in the win and thank the Steelers for taking it easy on my nerves for once.