It’s mid-December, the NFL playoffs are beckoning and the Steelers, as evidenced by their decisive 30-20 win over the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals last night, are priming at the right time.
Oh, wait. They’re not. Sorry about that.
This excellent performance at Heinz Field means nothing in terms of the postseason, unless you are among the very few who takes the smallest particle of hope and cling to it as though it means much more than it is.
All that can be said is the Steelers gave a glimpse of what might have been by taking a 21-0 first-quarter lead over the Bengals in what was equal part football mastery on their part and monumental incompetence by the Bengals.
Early thoughts on the game:
• The Bengals were ninth in the NFL in scoring at 25.7 points per game, but anyone who takes his performance by the Steelers defense as a repudiation of what we saw for most of the first 13 games of the season is dreaming. Hopefully, the decision-makers with the Steelers will see this game for what it was -- an aberration.
• For the terminally optimistic: The Steelers are 6-8 and trail Miami, 8-6, by two games with two games to go. And Miami has the first tiebreaker, head-to-head competition. If multiple teams end up tied at 8-8, the Steelers might have the edge. But the Dolphins' two remaining games are at Buffalo and at home against the Jets. They beat the Jets by 20 in New York two weeks ago. It’s over!
• If that's not enough, the Steelers also trail Baltimore and San Diego.
• For most of the second half of the season, Ben Roethlisberger has been one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the NFL. He was sacked once last night. The offensive line is coming together. It’s young and with strong pedigrees. It could be a force for years to come.
• Mike Tomlin stuck to his word and played his regulars.
• Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell continues to inspire hope but has yet to have a breakout game. Big deal that he’s closing in a Steelers rookie record for total yards from scrimmage. Few rookies have had the opportunities he’s been given. He carried 24 times for 57 yards against the Bengals. He’s an excellent pass receiver out of the backfield, five catches for 50 yards, but he’s yet to live up to his second-round status in his primary job -- running the ball.
• No one should ever again accuse NBC analyst and former Bengal Cris Collinsworth of being anti-Steelers, as has been the case often in the past. His sniveling excuse-making for the Steelers poor season was unprofessional and deplorable.
• Antonio Brown’s season of utter brilliance continues. He caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown and returned a punt 67 yards for another touchdown. With 95 catches for the season, Brown won’t likely break Hines Ward’s team record of 112. But with 1,305 receiving yards, he’s in excellent position to break Yancey Thigpen’s team record of 1,398. He is having a Pro Bowl/All-Pro caliber season. Not bad for a sixth-round draft choice.
• Another strong performance by Roethlisberger, who is thriving in the no-huddle offense. He completed 14 of 17 passes in the first half and 20 of 25 for the game. Among AFC quarterback, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are having the best seasons. Roethlisberger is right behind them.
• Steelers candidates for the Pro Bowl: Brown, Roethlisberger, David DeCastro. The last time the Steelers did not have a defensive player in the Pro Bowl was 2000. Which was the second straight year that happened.
First Published December 16, 2013 12:23 AM