CINCINNATI -- Owing to the demands of their respective schedules, two members of the AFC's North Division won football games in the past 48 hours, but only because those two got to play the other two.
The Steelers might have allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to pull even with the division-leading Baltimore Ravens Monday night, using that proven football technique known as getting out of the way, but that doesn't mean it's any easier to tell the top of the AFC North from the bottom.
Can't anyone find the THIS END UP arrow?
"We understand that there's a certain amount of misery that comes with the position that we're in," coach Mike Tomlin said minutes after his frustrated club fell to 0-2. "We'll wear it. We don't like it. We'll wear it. But more importantly we'll continue to work."
Fortunately, there isn't a team in their division that doesn't need equal tonnage of work.
The Steelers solidified the young season's first impression that they are fairly dreadful with this surrender inside Paul Brown Stadium, and the Cleveland Browns count as a redundancy when dreadful is used in the same sentence, but these two 0-2 teams don't look appreciably worse than the 1-1 Ravens and Bengals.
That's about the best thing that can said about Tomlin's team this morning, other than maybe that they cut down on the torn ligaments and finally got around to scoring a touchdown that mattered, namely Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard toss to Derek Moye at the far right boundary of the Bengals end zone with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
That flip hoisted the Steelers into a 10-10 tie that had a shelf life such that it was gone for good not long after the end of the halftime show.
So it took Todd Haley's offense 18 possessions to score exactly two touchdowns in the season's first six quarters, and it quickly returned to its three-and-out rhythm immediately thereafter.
The quarterback, sacked only twice, misfired way to often for an offense with no running game to even sniff efficiency. Roethlisberger's 30th pass sailed too high for Jerricho Cotchery, who could only tip it into the eager arms of Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. That interception, the second turnover of the night, quashed any notion that the Steelers could overturn the 10-point second-half lead the Bengals erected against a defense that was on the field too long with too many responsibilities.
Had it not been for the typically excellent job Ike Taylor did on A.J. Green, who caught only six of the 14 balls Andy Dalton threw at him and for only 41 yards, this would have been a thorough butt-kicking. But while all the critical blow-by-blow in these first two games is best described by developments in the passing game, the Steelers know full well that they are going nowhere until they show they can run the football even a little bit.
Monday was the 10th consecutive game dating to last season that the Steelers failed to produce a 100-yard rusher. Felix Jones carried 10 times for 37 yards, and Roethlisberger, who carried once out of a designed play fake, gained 6 yards, making him the club's second-leading ground-gainer.
"They're a good defense out there," Jones contended. "We've just got to do a better job because we got in a situation where we had to get back into the game. When you're trying to catch up, you're gonna get away from the run a little bit."
Isaac Redman, injured on the opening kickoff, took only three handoffs and gained only 4 yards. Jonathan Dwyer, who gained 122 yards here in October, burbled up from the bottom of the depth chart to carry it only once for 2 yards.
The Steelers are averaging one rushing first down per week at the moment, not surprising when the typical running play gains about 7 feet.
"We're trying to establish it, but, when you get a couple of three-and-outs, then you've got to go to passing the ball," lamented guard Ramon Foster. "They crashed down on it pretty good, so then you've got to try to spread them out a little bit, and so you don't get all the opportunities we wanted in the run game.
"It's just technique sometimes. One guy slides off too early. We're not down on it; we've just got to execute it when it's time to run it."
Of course, it's past time, isn't it? And it might soon be too late.
But fret not. The Green Bay Packers will be here Sunday to smack these Bengals, the Ravens don't figure to overwhelm the Houston Texans, and the Browns visit the Minnesota Vikings on their way to 0-3.
This time next week, the Steelers could be tied for first in the AFC North.
Whatever that means.
Gene Collier: email@example.com. First Published September 17, 2013 5:45 AM