However, Sunday's loss was different. Even though it was an important game, I was over the loss rather quickly. I'm not sure why, but I think it was this:
The Bengals were the better team on Sunday.
After the Bears loss and first Bengals loss, I thought the Steelers were the better team. They just made bad mistakes. Missed field goals, dropped touchdown passes, and late game missed tackles. Every game in the NFL is important. So you can't afford to lose games when you outplay the opponent.
But, the Steelers were outplayed on Sunday.
They didn't bring their best. The offense was 0-4 in the red zone. Despite making it inside the 10 yard line four times, the team didn't sniff the end zone. Give credit to an impressive defensive performance.
The Steelers defense played an extraordinary game, but when opportunities arose to make a game changing play, the ball slipped through their hands. Ryan Clark dropped an interception on a Bengals drive in the fourth quarter. Willie Gay dropped two earlier in the game.
The Bengals made the plays.
The special teams did what the special teams does and let up another game changing touchdown return. For the 7th straight game, the Steelers allowed a return touchdown. Those eventually catch up to you. And the 6 points from that touchdown was the difference in an 18-12 game.
The Bengals defense earned major respect from this blogger. The front four dominated in the run game, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 30+ yards on 13 carries. The blitz schemes of Mike Zimmer had Ben Roethlisberger running for his life and the O-line looking like the 2008 version, not the new and improved 2009 version. Even when Big Ben had time to throw, the Bengals secondary smothered Steeler receivers. This defense made Roethlisberger look like Alex Smith. And this was all done without Keith Rivers. A Bengals turnover generated 3 important points for the team. It held a talented Steelers offense to 0-4 in the red zone and 3-16 on third down. That won't get it done for Big Ben and Company.
Bruce Arians has long been the whipping boy of Steeler Nation and he looked overmatched again on Sunday. But, what I have learned is that if you lose the matchup on the line, every offensive coordinator will look like an idiot. Of course I would have loved to see more screens, draws, throws to running backs, and other tactics to slow down a defense that blitzed nearly every third down, but the Steelers aren't all that good at those plays. And God forbid we ever try a run on third and short. But, we stuck with our bread and butter and just got beat by a hungrier team. No more fingers should be pointed at Arians than should be pointed at the players.
The Bengals offense did just enough to win, but didn't look overly impressive doing so. The Steelers defense, minus Troy Polamalu who was injured early, held the Bengals without a touchdown and played exceedingly well, for all but the Bengals final drive. The defense only allowed 9 points. 6 came from a kickoff return and 3 came from a Roethlisberger interception. James Harrison cannot take a stupid penalty.
In the end, Big Ben and company had 2 minutes to drive down the field for the win. But, he didn't get a yard.
What does it all mean?
It means that the Steelers will probably be a wild card team. But, other than that, not much. It was an off day. I don't think it has any long term consequences. The Steelers weren't exposed. They didn't lose because of stupid mistakes. On this day, the Bengals made more plays.
And I'm not losing any sleep over it.