But as always, there are some takeaways to be had:
1. Not giving up?
Ben Roethlisberger told reporters after the loss that he never wanted to come out of the game, and he didn’t, playing until the clock hit triple zeroes against Cincinnati. I suppose it was important for Roethlisberger to fight until the end, and the Steelers offense continued to take shots at the end zone late in the fourth quarter. However, the fighting spirit fell rather flat due to the uninspired play of the team throughout the game, with the final attempts at scoring feeling more like denial at being blown out by a divisional rival rather than the “Steeler spirit” it was supposed to represent.
2. Cam and everyone else
Cam Heyward didn’t play his best game against Cincinnati, but he still made some plays and showed impressive effort. At this point he’s been by far the most consistently above-board player on this Pittsburgh defense. Others have had a few good games or plays here and there, but the final result has often been mediocre or flat out bad at times. Even T.J. Watt has suffered through on-and-off injuries this season. Ultimately, it’s Heyward who has really played his heart and soul out each game. He couldn’t save what was an awful performance from what has become one of the league’s worst defenses, but he still deserves recognition for what he’s done this season. It’s a shame that such a sorry year could be the pinnacle of Heyward’s legacy as a Steeler.
3. Playing small
Chase Claypool continues to show that he has some big-play talent, recording a few nice catches against the Bengals. But once again the bad plays outweighed the good ones. In a particularly bad sequence, he recorded an uncalled-for facemask penalty against the Bengals, possibly killing a drive, just to be targeted on the next play and promptly drop the pass. That was just one of the many instances in that game and this season in which Claypool has displayed poor hands, played smaller than he is, and had flashes of immaturity. His postgame comments regarding making practice “more fun” were extremely unnecessary as well.
In a way, Claypool is a microcosm of this Steelers team — something with enough talent to still do something this year in the NFL, but continuing to fall woefully short. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers and Claypool can start playing inspired again this season.
4. The importance of Joe Haden
The Steelers were without Joe Haden against Cincinnati, and he couldn’t have been any more missed. I’ve been impressed with his replacement James Pierre for the most part this season, but he turned in easily the worst game of his career. The truth is that this secondary has a history of not performing well sans Haden. Even though the veteran corner is not what he used to be, he’s still a key cog in the defensive scheme and that was more apparent than ever on Sunday. When Haden eventually leaves the Steelers, whether through free agency or retirement, it is essential that the team has a strong backup plan to replace him.
5. On to Baltimore
There’s not much to say about the Steelers’ loss to the Bengals. It was tough to watch, embarrassing for the team, and possibly the beginning of the end of the Steelers season. But don’t forget that the AFC remains a complete mess, and despite their horrible play as of lately, the Steelers are still in a good spot to nab a playoff seed. It’s hardly a guarantee, but if this team can put together a few more good games this year they have a chance. It all starts with putting the Bengals game behind them, rising up to the occasion, and beating #1 seed Baltimore in what is a very winnable game on Sunday. That game is the most important of the season, and a victory would definitely help wash away the incredibly sour taste of this week.
As I’ve unfortunately written before this season, it’s fitting that there’s so few takeaways from such a terrible game. Perhaps it’s best just to forget this one and move on.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 2021 regular season.