Are the Pittsburgh Steelers officially in "oh sh*t" mode? It's starting to feel that way. Okay, so I go into every season with the Steelers feeling a rather healthy dose of pessimism, but I knew this one was going to be particularly bad. With so many veterans gone and the Steelers lacking the fire they usually play with (made glaringly obvious during a 0-4 preseason and a pathetic season opener when they "scored" two points for 99 percent of the game), this loss to the Cincinnati Bengals truly was no surprise. The only question that remains is how far they're going to fall with a very tough schedule ahead. Losing four preseason games, now two regular season games, and in 2012, they won against the Cleveland Browns on December 30, but lost the previous three -- which means they've lost 11 of their last 13 games. It's their fifth 0-2 start in 25 seasons, and Mike Tomlin's first time as an 0-2 head coach. Damn. Some depressing statistics right there. Hold me while I weep.
Don't get me wrong, there were some random moments of brilliance. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked like his old self to close out the first half. He orchestrated a 5-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Brett Keisel knocked down a pass in the middle of the fourth quarter to prevent what looked like would have been an inevitable touchdown, giving the Bengals a 20-10 lead instead of a daunting 24-10 (sadly, the score remained at 20-10, but more on that later). Antonio Brown is capable as both a receiver and returner. Troy Polamalu looks healthy? ... Even with Jon Gruden's eternally optimistic, rose-colored glasses commentary, it was hard not to watch this matchup without a permanent scowl on my face.
(Considering during a majority of the game, I was really wishing I had caught up on season 4 of Breaking Bad instead of tuning in to this disaster. Please don't tell me what happened on Sunday. It's been so hard avoiding the Internet when one works for the Internet.)
Anyway, I digress. The Steelers offense just can't sustain any sort of momentum, and the defense isn't doing enough to make up for their ineptitude. Ben threw a devastating pick with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, right at the moment when it looked like I was going to eat the words I just wrote (you know, about their ineptitude and all), when they could have made the game 20-17 to shake things up a bit. Nope. Everything with the Steelers seems completely off. I really am not sure how they're going to be able to win a game without some major adjustments.
Of course the injuries are of note, as veteran Larry Foote and reliable Maurkice Pouncey will be sorely, truly, devastatingly missed, and I can't wait for the day Heath Miller comes back. Still, as frustrating as it is for the everyday fan to watch this crap show, I can't imagine how infuriating it must be for the players and coaches. Nothing they're doing seems to be working, and no one has stepped up to fire up and inspire the rest. This is what happens when you can't establish a running game. It's been eight straight games without 100 rushing yards for the Steelers, which is just so un-Steeler-like, there really are no words.
They ran for 44 yards the entire game. Felix Jones was the top rusher, with 10 carries for just 37 yards. Ben was the second leading rusher, with 6 yards, which is never a good sign. And that's it. To state the really freakin' obvious: It's very tough to win a game when you run for 44 yards. As well as not being able to get 10 yards when opening the game up with 3 running plays. What the hell was that all about.
Andy Dalton, on the other hand, went 25 for 45, 280 yards, and 1 TD. Tight-end Jermaine Gresham definitely made an impression with 6 catches for 66 yards, and Giovani Bernard looks like he could easily become a superstar with 2 TDs. Congrats to the Bengals for picking Bernard up, wow, jealous. Ben completed 20 of 37 for 251 yards and 1 TD and the aforementioned interception. David Paulson also had a costly fumble in the first quarter while the Steelers were driving -- and the Bengals had zero turnovers. A freakin' tripping call also killed the offense's momentum after what would have been a huge third-down conversion, and the group just seemed to lose all steam after that one. Since the defense could produce no turnovers, and the offense kept shooting itself in the foot, there were no points for the black and gold in the entire second half. The Bengals piled up 407 yards on "the Steel Curtain," maintaining possession for more than 35 minutes. The Bengals are looking to take the top spot in the AFC North, and if their opponents continue to play like the Steelers, well, they won't have much of a problem. We miss you, James Harrison.
It's only the second game and the Steelers already look beaten and defeated. The offensive line and running back issues will not resolve themselves by next week. And they're playing the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. Does someone out there, in the universe, have the answers to the Steelers' woes? I'd love to hear 'em. Physicality has always been such an integral part of the Steelers' tradition and identity, and when that's gone, they'll keep losing games. All hope isn't quite lost at this point, and maybe this is the wakeup call the Steelers need, but still ... I'm guessing my local sports bar is going to be taking a lot of my money so I can drown my sorrows during these next few weeks.
The Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins all lost on Monday night. Should be a fun day at work in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Until next week, though you might see a Breaking Bad recap instead of a Steelers one. Seriously, TV gods, WTF were you thinking with that one, having both on at the same damn time??