While watching a few NFL games and highlights of other matchups over the weekend as a primer to the Steelers Monday night “fix it” contest against the 2-10-1 Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, the thing that stuck out to me the most was how certain playoff teams and contenders—including the Bills, Titans and Ravens—seemed to be playing at a much higher level than Pittsburgh had been in recent weeks.
Perhaps I was just imagining that. After all, when a team is on a two-game slide and hasn’t really looked all that good for going on a month, it could give one a perspective that skews a little too far into the negative direction than what is warranted.
But it appears that I wasn’t imagining things, not if the Steelers’ dreadful 27-17 performance against Cincinnati was any indication.
Monday night’s debacle in which Pittsburgh committed three early turnovers that led to 17 first-half points for the Bengals was what we’ve been witnessing from this team for weeks—but with the bare-minimum good stuff stripped away.
That’s right, the Steelers' offense performed even worse than it had in earlier games against much stronger opponents. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t look like an MVP candidate; he looked like a 38-year old has-been whose arm and decision-making have fallen off the proverbial cliff. He threw for 19 yards in the first half and was responsible for two of the three turnovers. What we’ve seen from this Steelers’ offense over the past few weeks has been even worse than the worst of what Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges produced at any point in 2019.
As for the defense, it was game, it was okay at times, but it didn’t seem to have the energy and/or personnel necessary to stand there and slug it out while its offense continued to look for answers. Monday was the second game out of three in which the defense failed to take the football away. What about that pass rush without Bud Dupree? Again, it was okay, it was capable, but it just wasn’t particularly potent and/or menacing.
As I alluded to earlier with my “fix it” remark, this game was viewed as an entree into a better world, a way to get some things right before the stakes started to get higher in January. But of all the “Tomlin losses,” this might have been the worst one yet for head coach Mike Tomlin. He’s never one to shy away from accepting the brunt of the blame for performances such as this, and that’s a good thing, too, because that buck sits squarely on his shoulders. To come out and put on such a performance in a game in which not only the division title was on the line, but also the confidence in his team’s ability to do anything in the playoffs, was simply inexcusable.
What can we expect moving forward? Not much, I’m afraid.
Not long ago, the Steelers had a healthy chance at clinching the top seed and the lone bye in the AFC. Now, fully in the throes of a third-straight December meltdown—and with two contenders left on the schedule—they’re in danger of backing into the postseason with one of those lower seeds they so desperately wanted last season.
Speaking of 2019, the only difference between this season and last season is that the Steelers have already clinched a postseason berth. Everything else appears to be the same—including the performance at the quarterback level.
Can the Steelers beat the Chiefs in the playoffs? The way things are looking now, any number of other Super Bowl contenders—including the Titans, Ravens, Colts and by-god Browns—will knock them off well-before anyone has a chance to kid themselves.