Who Dey? Coming out of another win against the Bengals, I have to wonder how much longer the Bengals and their fans will hang on to their increasingly ironic slogan. The slogan made some sense when it was originally adopted by an upstart team that wanted the league to know they weren't afraid of anyone. Since then, the Bengals have grown into the role of media favorite with a roster full of Pro Bowl players, gaudy statistical rankings, and an impressive win/loss record. They've also developed a clear track record of being intimidated by bright lights and big stages, completely the reverse of their slogan. The Bengals have folded like a cheap lawn chair in high pressure games, and their claim to not be afraid of anyone rings hollow.
"Who Dey?" coming from the Bengals now makes about as much sense as Browns fans attaching #cultureofwinning to their tweets and posts. Or the Rams adopting the slogan "Football City USA." In reality, "Who Dey" makes a lot more sense directed toward the Bengals, who make big boasts but have done precious little to justify them. Who are they and what have they done? The Bengals are the quintessential paper champions, and the most over-hyped team in football this season.
What the events Saturday evening also displayed is the kind of unsportsmanlike behavior that is actually intrinsic to the identity the team and their fans have intentionally cultivated. "Who Dey?" is fundamentally and essentially an expression of disrespect; it is the boastful assertion of a lack of respect. What we saw on the field, and coming from the stands, on Saturday is the natural result of that lack of respect. Vontaze Burfic, Adam Jones, and the fans that threw trash at an injured player being carted off the field failed to show even the basic respect accorded to fellow human beings.
The Steelers showed on Saturday why they're the real deal. For those who don't know, "Dey," the Steelers, are a team that are expected each year to contend for a Super Bowl, not just make the playoffs. They are a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs because they step up to the plate on the big stage.
"Dey" is Mike Mitchell, who didn't light up the stat line but was an instrumental part of shutting down the Bengals offense. Mitchell's physical play has made him a lightning rod for hate from Bengals fans, probably because it makes them feel better about having a player like Burfict on their own team's roster. Few of them maybe noticed that while their entire team abandoned their injured teammate Gio Bernard on the field in order to go pick fights with Steelers players, one man and one man only was there offering sportsmanlike moral support to an injured comrade on another team. That man was Mike Mitchell. Mitchell likes to hit hard, and is perhaps not sufficiently cautious in the placement of his hits, but the fact that he was standing by Bernard rather than mixing it up at midfield speaks volumes. Mitchell plays in control of his emotions and doesn't intentionally try to injure anybody. In fact, Mitchell clearly held back when given good reason and opportunity to drill A.J. Green in the back on the goal line late in the game.
That's another impact of Burfict's play as well, that it takes physical players like Mitchell who are actually concerned about injury off their game. Mitchell blew the tackle and any chance of a goal line stand at least partly, I would argue, because he was thinking about not adding another injury to the game - either A.J. Green or whoever Burfict would choose to injure for retaliation of a hard hit. But I digress.
"Dey" is Ben Roethlisberger, whose 229 yards and 1 TD on 18 of 31 passing doesn't tell close to the whole story in a game that he managed very effectively. The decision to roll out directly into the arms of Vontaze Burfict and a nearly catastrophic pass directly to a Bengals defender (characteristically Bungled) in the red zone were the sole blemishes in a game where he made the throws he needed to make and avoided throws that he needed to avoid. He also would've had a much bigger day if not for missing an entire quarter just when the offense was hitting its stride. Like he did against Denver, Todd Haley opened the game conservatively, feeling out the defense and building rhythm, letting his thoroughbred offense warm up slowly but surely, before driving 129 yards and scoring 10 points in the first two possessions of the second half before Ben was knocked out of the game. Did I say knocked out of the game? Ben would return to complete 5 of 8 passes for 40 yards, engineering a last minute come from behind drive that probably didn't even need Adam Jones' help.
"Dey" is Christopher Lynn Boswell, an undrafted free agent signed by the Texans in 2014, waived, picked up by the Giants, waived, and signed by the Steelers almost halfway through 2015. The Wizard of Boz supplied almost all the Steelers' scoring, going 4 for 4 on the day on a wet field. And if you think the game winning FG from 35 yards out was a gimme, go back and watch former All Pro Blair Walsh miss a potential game winner from 27 yards out Sunday.
"Dey" are Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint, who combined for 123 rushing yards and 60 yards through the air against a "top 10 rushing defense." Todman and Toussaint started the year behind Bell, Williams, and Archer on the depth chart, and were moved into the starting role by injuries despite combining for only 10 carries previously in the year.
The Steelers stars took care of business and the role players elevated their games when it mattered most and the lights were brightest. Maybe the Steelers as a team were able to overcome adversity, play their best on the big stage against good teams, and win in the playoffs because they aren't just talented. They have respect for their opponents and for the game of football. They're not afraid to give their opponents credit where credit is due, and let that inspire them to play at the peak of their potential. It also allows them to lose with dignity when things don't go their way. Maybe the Bengals should look into that.