Unless you are a hardcore fantasy football fan who needed Antonio Brown to come through for you this week, there was very little to hate about the Steelers 24-16 victory for the Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Despite the offensive prowess of both teams, one had to figure this Week 2 match-up between bitter AFC North foes would unfold like so many have in recent memory, with the defenses on both sides playing rather prominent roles.
The Bengals have a very good defense that often frustrates quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to the point of throwing multiple interceptions, which he did again on Sunday with two. Cincinnati also possesses a pretty talented secondary that usually somehow manages to frustrate receiver Antonio Brown, which it did again in Week 2 by limiting him to four receptions for 39 yards.
But Pittsburgh’s defense, while still clearly a work-in-progress and with a secondary that’s not as talented and as accomplished as the Bengals, also manages to frustrate the likes of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green on a regular basis, which, again, was the case at Heinz Field on Sunday.
But while Pittsburgh limited the ultra-talented Green to one-less yard than Brown on two-fewer receptions, Dalton found holes in the secondary all afternoon long to the tune of 366 passing yards. However, on three trips inside the red zone, Cincinnati could only muster three Mike Nugent field goals.
So, basically, what happened between these two teams in an earlier-than-usual Week 2 dance was par for the course.
In many ways, this latest AFC North battle between the Steelers and Bengals at Heinz resembled the one from Week 8 of last year, when Cincinnati overcame a late 10-6 deficit and escaped with a 16-10 victory, thanks mainly to two late Roethlisberger interceptions.
Roethlisberger did throw two interceptions this time around, but neither was of the dagger to the heart variety (in-fact, the one Adam “Pacman” Jones picked off in the first quarter, came on fourth down and actually cost his team 15 yards in field position).
It wasn’t exactly a “pretty” day for No. 7. In addition to his two interceptions, he barely completed 50 percent of his passes (19 of 37), as a game-long rain wreaked havoc with his accuracy. However, he still figured heavily into all three touchdowns.
He set up the first two scores by connecting with receiver Sammie Coates on bombs of 44 and 53 yards, respectively. The last touchdown was set up by a 14-yard scramble, when, much like his 44-yard bomb to Coates, Roethlisberger eluded a Bengals pass-rusher, only this time he tucked the ball and did the dirty work himself, as he finished his run by diving head-first to the Bengals five-yard line.
In-between, Roethlisberger dealt with the Bengals potent pass-rush by occasionally finding outlet receivers such as Williams while one or more defenders were trying to drag him to the ground.
All-in-all, this was the kind of game you may look back on months from now and point to when reviewing key moments during the season.
Was the Tyler Boyd fumble at the end a bit of a gift, perhaps? Maybe. But every great season has at least a little good fortune as part of the plot line.
Luck or not, the Bengals are obviously the real deal, a team equal to Pittsburgh in overall talent who will be there at the end, fighting for division and conference supremacy.
As Bill Cowher used to say, there’s a fine line between winning and losing, between championship finishes and frustrating endings.
Sunday’s game could have gone either way, but a win or a loss in the second week ultimately doesn’t determine much. However, if you’ll recall the 2008 season (the last one that ended in Super Bowl victory), Pittsburgh jumped out of the gate 2-0, after whipping the Texans by three touchdowns in Week 1 and then outlasting the division rival Browns by a score of 10-6 during an evening-long rainstorm in Cleveland.
While Cleveland wasn’t a Super Bowl-contender eight years ago, the overall point remains the same: there are many ways to win a football game.
Last week, Pittsburgh looked like a well-oiled machine, as it beat up on an inferior Redskins team by 22 points. This week, the Steelers met a legit-equal, a threat to their division and conference aspirations, and they had to slug it out until the very end.
There’s obviously a long way to go in the 2016 season, but if there is one thing the Steelers have proven already, it’s that they’re for real.
The ugly way they achieved victory in Week 2 may have proven that even more than the easy way they did so six days earlier.