This performance was so early 2008 for Ben Roethlisberger, so unusual for his recent vintage.
His 174 yards and 51.5 passer rating yesterday marked his worst showings, in a game he finished, since a 15-6 loss at Philadelphia in Week 3 last season. His touchdown-less passing performance was his first in 16 games, excluding the Cleveland regular-season finale in December when he exited early.
Roethlisberger's summation: "Offensively, we ... we ... I played bad. It kind of starts with me up there. I've got to make corrections and adjustments and pick up my play."
Coincidentally, his next-worst yardage game this season came Oct. 25 against Minnesota with just 1 more yard than yesterday, meaning two of his past three starts have fallen more than 100 yards below his customary output. Three of his passes were dropped, three more were batted by Bengals and, in all, 10 were credited as Cincinnati passes defended.
"From the get-go, we just weren't on," Roethlisberger said after the 18-12 loss to the Bengals. "We weren't good in the red zone, we weren't good on the run, we weren't good on the pass.
"There was something missing all day; I don't know what it was. Even from the get-go, something was weird about the day. I don't know if it was the weather in November or what it was. Seemed like even the crowd at the beginning, everyone was just kind of different."
That was how deep the Steelers penetrated in four red zone forays -- all without a touchdown.
"How many times did we get down there, five or six?" right tackle Willie Colon asked. It seemed worse.
The final stats: On four trips inside the Bengals' 15, the Steelers rushed five times for 2 yards, completed 2 of 8 passes for 8 yards, got sacked twice for 16 yards in losses and were penalized once for 10 yards. Add it all up, their red zone production equaled 16 total yards backward (over 15 snaps) and four field goals.
Left tackle Max Starks ascribed some of the Steelers' problems to the Bengals' stand-up, roving defensive end, along with stunting, twisting blitzes from linebackers and the free safety.
"We didn't find any comfort," Starks said of the offense en toto. "We tried a variety of different things. We were kind of picking and choosing. Really wasn't cohesive at all. Kind of guessing. We were a little timid out there; didn't really go into attack mode at any point, I don't think.
"When you get into a situation where you're in a passing battle, it's tough to sit there and back up the entire time and keep being passive-aggressive. We have to find that balance, that gentle line, that gray, to keep us a more balanced team and not let teams take us out of our game."
Added Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker: "You just keep the ball in front of you and make them check it down, and take the dink and dunk. We knew if it came to that all day, we were going to win."
Safety Ryan Clark all but awarded the AFC North title to Cincinnati, what with its soft schedule ahead, insurmountable 5-0 division record and season sweep of the Steelers.
"I mean, they're going to be division champs," Clark began. "[We] already know we have to beat them with the overall record. That's tough. We have to win out. Don't get me wrong, I'd give one of my arms to play them again, whether it's there or North Allegheny."
"Yeah, I would like to have another shot[at Cincinnati]," added defensive end Nick Eason. "But right now we got seven games left, and that's what's most important -- win out."
Bernard Scott's 96-yard kickoff return, the only touchdown of the game, constituted the third time in four games the Steelers yielded a kickoff return for a score and the seventh consecutive game where an opponent returned a fumble, interception or kick for a touchdown.
"We got to stop things," cornerback and special teamer Willie Gay said. "That's a problem we have to erase. We have to find a new problem."
Scott, by the way, replaced Cedric Benson and his ailing hip with 33 yards on 13 carries, including one for a key, fourth-quarter first down. "He's going to be a special player, and he showed his complexity," Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said of Scott.
• Former starting halfback Willie Parker played two downs against Cincinnati, doubling his output of one Monday in Denver, and stopped short on a short pass thrown in his direction on his first snap.
• Steelers injuries: cornerback/special teamer Keenan Lewis didn't return from a ribs injury. All-everything safety Troy Polamalu was lost in the first quarter to a left-knee injury, the same thing that happened in the season opener when an MCL sprain sidelined him the next four games.
• Inactives for the Steelers included injured Travis Kirschke (calf) and Carey Davis (hamstring) and backup defensive back Kiewan Ratliff, who played every game since being inactive in the opener.
• The 65,392 attendance was the second-most in Heinz Field history, only behind this season's Minnesota game.
• Mean Joe Greene and former co-star Tommy Okon beforehand received overdue Clio awards for the 1979 Coca-Cola commercial in which they starred. Okon, on his daily way to work, passes the Mount Vernon, N.Y., stadium where they filmed the famed spot over three days and a case and a half of colas gulped down by Greene. "It definitely changed some things that happened in my life," Greene said of the ad voted the all-time best NFL commercial.
• From Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson, who replaced the injured Keith Rivers: "Very sweet [victory]. Very sweet. I'm almost a diabetic right now, it's so sweet."
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com . First Published November 16, 2009 5:00 AM