It's week 15, and the Pittsburgh Steelers baaaaaaaarely stay alive in the playoff chase with an impressive 30-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. During a windy, cold night, the Steelers had to play like they had nothing to lose. And they did! After the Bengals botched some huge special teams plays, the Steelers were able to build up a lead that their AFC North rivals were never able to catch.
The top three seeds all lost this week. Kansas City clinched a playoff berth and the Miami Dolphins are in the wild card hunt as well. The Steelers for whatever reason still actually have a shot. Believe it or not. Not only did Cincinnati lose an opportunity to get into that #2 spot, now the Baltimore Ravens, if they win out, have a shot at becoming #1 in the AFC North. You're welcome, Baltimore. Figuring out the playoffs hurts my teeny tiny alcohol-fueled brain.
Anyway, since the New England Patriots lost to the Dolphins earlier, the Bengals now have to wait around and leave their fate to other teams' hands. In at least the first half, it looked like the Steelers vs. Bengals matchups of old, when these games weren't even a contest. Sigh, I miss those days. The Bengals' offensive line had a difficult time at the beginning, and quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked in the first half for the first time since November 10 at Baltimore.
SO MUCH has to happen for the Steelers to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time under coach Mike Tomlin. Still, it seems they want to go out with a bang, and they were able to build up 21 points to Cincinnati's 0, even though beforehand, the Steelers had been outscored 77-43 in the first quarter. How pathetic is that. And the Bengals were only able to get 91 yards in the first half. The offense and defense and special teams finally came together, and I wept profusely for what might have been.
The special teams plays really put them over the edge. It started off with a bobbled snap by punter Kevin Huber, and he was tackled at the 1-yard line. A couple plays later, Le'Veon Bell made the score 7-0. Then, during Antonio Brown's 67-yard punt return for a TD, poor Huber got knocked down during the play and fractured his jaw. Before the big return, officials ruled that Bengals Cedric Peerman called for a fair catch, which cancelled out a huge return. When the Bengals punted, the Steelers marched 47 yards up the field to set up a Ben Roethlisberger 12-yard TD pass to Brown. With Brown's punt return, the Steelers were soon leading 21-0.
Shaun Suisham, who was perfect all night, hit a 25-yard field goal, giving the Steelers a 24-0 lead with 9:36 remaining in the second quarter. On the following series, when the Bengals got the ball back, Giovani Bernard ran up the middle for a 1-yard TD. The Steelers were able to score again on their next possession, setting up a Suisham 45-yard field goal, making the score 27-7 with 1:14 remaining in the second quarter. Even though it was windy and Suisham was kicking into the open end of the field, boy, did he make it look easy.
In the third quarter, things got a little dicey when the teams traded turnovers -- Troy Polamalu caused a fumble, which was recovered by Ziggy Hood. But then Roethlisberger threw an underthrown pass meant for Emmanuel Sanders, and the Bengals got the ball at their own 2-yard line. So neither team was able to score, but it did put a dent in Ben's otherwise kind of perfect night.
The Steelers struck next with a 26-yard field goal, bringing the score up to 30-7 in the third quarter. The Steelers would never score again while the Bengals tried to put on a bit of a comeback. Dalton threw for those two touchdowns, but they were unable to convert for two points when the score was 30-20 -- Jarvis Jones was able to get a hand up to knock down the pass. The Bengals got the ball back for one last time, but Dalton's long pass to A.J. Green on fourth down was incomplete. Then that was pretty much the game!
The Steelers running game struggled throughout, but with Ben calling the plays in the no-huddle offense, they seemed to be more productive and in synch than they have all season. Again, minus that interception. Bell only ran for 57 yards on 24 carries. At the same time, he caught 5 passes for 50 yards and seems to be on his way to becoming a solid back for the Steelers, something they so desperately needed. Bell also joined Franco Harris and Bam Morris as the only rookie back to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Congrats dude!
Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Andy Dalton completed 25 of 44 for 230 yards and 2 TDs in the second half. It was definitely not a high-yardage game for Ben (191 yards!), but the offense did put on an extremely impressive first half.
Also of note: This was Bengals linebacker James Harrison's first time back in Heinz Field since he left the Steelers. But he left in the first quarter due to a concussion. Guess we'll never know how he would have fared playing at his old stomping grounds against his old team. Kind of glad about that one.
Overall, although it's always great to have a win, at the same time, it's kind of frustrating to see what the Steelers could have been, had they not dug themselves into a 0-4 hole at the beginning of the season and/or lost key, close games to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. If they are finally able to piece everything together now, well, it's a bit too late for all that. My mind can't even begin to wrap around all the things that would have to happen for the Steelers to make the playoffs, so, whatever, we'll just enjoy the win because it's always fun to win against the Bungles. They did make it pretty easy for us, and next week will be a huge test for the Steelers.
The Steelers will play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. This could be the first game since early November that quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes an appearance, because, of course, why not. The Packers are also in playoff contention after winning a somewhat hilarious game over the Dallas Cowboys, so Rodgers will do his best to make sure he is ready. Awesome. Fantastic.
I still highly doubt the Steelers will see the postseason -- as Jim Mora would say, "Playoffs?!" But we can only hold out hope until the Steelers are officially, mathematically eliminated. At the same time, there's no doubt that the offseason should be full of changes regardless if the Steelers manage to win out. I wasn't sure how much more Cris Collinsworth wanted to keep kissing Todd Haley's ass (dear lord, I've never heard anything like that), but in my opinion, he'll be the first one to go. The no-huddle worked, why haven't we tried that more all season?! Gahhhh. Alas, bygones. At least the Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh matchup will be a fun one to watch. Until next week!