Ron Cook: Flawless win makes you wonder


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It doesn't make up for the excruciating losses to the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins. This Steelers season still will be remembered as a failure, defined by their 20 turnovers, the 11 plays of 50-plus yards against their defense and too many special-teams breakdowns to count.

But for one night, they were very, very good. They thumped the Cincinnati Bengals -- the presumptive AFC North Division champions -- on a frigid Sunday night on the North Shore. The game was even more one-sided than the 30-20 final score indicates.

Kind of makes you wonder what might have been, doesn't it?

"No, not at all," Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. "I'm just glad we got the win tonight ...

"The situation is the situation. We just tell each other, 'We've got to finish out strong.' This was a good start."

OK, so it makes me wonder.

It's funny, a buddy from Cincinnati mentioned at halftime, when the Steelers led, 27-7, that the Bengals were due for a bad game after winning three games in a row and seven of the past nine.

"Probably not as due as the Steelers were for a good one," I said.

Perspective is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

In Cincinnati, they are moaning about the Bengals' inability to do anything offensively until after the game was mostly decided and their series of special-teams blunders. They are saying their team, despite a 9-5 record, hardly looks as if it's ready for the playoffs.

Here, we are talking about how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was terrific and record-setting, how the defense was rock solid until easing up on the throttle in the fourth quarter and how the special teams excelled for the most part.

We are saying, after a performance such as this, that it's a shame the team has virtually no chance of making the postseason.

The truth hurts a little more this morning:

For the Steelers, this was too little, too late.

That doesn't mean the game wasn't fun to watch. The Heinz Field crowd, though small in number after nearly 20,000 ticket-holders decided to stay home and stay warm, was enthusiastic, very much into the beating the Steelers put on the Bengals.

This was, easily, the best home game of a disappointing season.

"We just wanted to come out and play as hard as we could and show everybody that we're going to give everything we have until the end," Roethlisberger said. "I thought we fought hard in all three phases."

Where was this Steelers defense against the Dolphins a week earlier?

The longest pass play it allowed Sunday went for 19 yards. The longest Bengals run play went for 9 yards, a scramble by quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals rushed for just 57 yards, matching their season low. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Ziggy Hood.

After giving up 34 points to the Dolphins, the Steelers held the Bengals to nearly seven points below their season average. Two of the Cincinnati touchdowns came in the second half after it was fairly obvious the Steelers were going to win.

"No, I'm not surprised," Taylor said. "We expect to play like that."

The Steelers offense continues to improve, scoring 27 points or more for the fourth time in five games. Roethlisberger completed his first 12 passes for 112 yards, one for a 12-yard touchdown to wide receiver Antonio Brown late in the second quarter.

Before the night was done, he broke his franchise record for completed passes in a season, pushing it to 340.

"I'm just glad we won. That's all that matters," Roethlisberger said. "To me, that 'W' means more than any personal record."

And how about the special teams?

Other than allowing a 52-yard kickoff return to Brandon Tate, they really were special. What a change, right? It wasn't that long ago -- in a 22-20 loss to the Ravens Thanksgiving night, to be exact -- that the Steelers botched a field-goal try and gave up a 73-yard kickoff return to Jacoby Jones.

You might remember that Jones return caused quite a bit of controversy.

Anyway, it was the Steelers who turned in the big splash play on special teams against the Bengals when Brown returned a first-quarter punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Shaun Suisham was good on all three of his field-goal attempts, including one from 45 yards on a night when the wind was brutal. If only he had made his 34- or 32-yard try in Oakland in a 21-18 loss in late October.

If ...

Maybe that's the one word that best describes the Steelers' season.

If only they had put together a complete game like this a few more times.

Maybe they would be getting ready to win the AFC North Division instead of the Bengals.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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