It may have been the most horrifying five minutes of Steeler football that we’ve seen in some time.
Ok, technically 4:27.
And actually, when you factor in halftime and commercials for TV it may have been more like half an hour. But in terms of pure game-clock time, the 4:27 that occurred between the end of the first half of Pittsburgh’s 23-20 loss in Cincinnati and the first few minutes of the second half may have been one of the worst stretches of Steeler football ever.
It all started with a 3rd and 4 opportunity for the Steelers at Cincy’s 35 yard line. That’s when Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes had one of their many misfires on the day for an incompletion to stop with the clock with 1:20 remaining in the second quarter.
For whatever reason, at that point, Steeler coach Mike Tomlin decided it would be a good idea to go for a first down, even though they were already leading 13-0.
At first they line up to go for it, but called time out. At this point the feeling was that the Steelers thought better of the decision when the Bengals didn’t jump off-sides or do anything else stupid.
But Daniel Sepulveda didn’t come out on the field to punt. Jeff Reed didn’t come out for a 52 yard field goal. Roethlisberger returned with the rest of the offense. Well… to pooch punt right?
Nope. Ben threw to Santonio again, and once more the pass fell incomplete. The ball was turned over on downs to the Bengals and they proceeded to march down the field on six sweat-free plays at about 8-12 yards a pop to set up an easy 34-yard Shayne Graham field goal, thus giving the Bengals momentum heading into halftime.
Mike Tomlin should’ve punted. Plain and simple. No field goal. No gamble for a first down. Gaining 15-20 yard of field possession on a punt wouldn’t feel like much if there were 5:00 left on the clock. But not 1:15.
Watching some of the conservative play calling we saw from Marvin Lewis in the first half of that game, I guarantee you the road to a field goal from Graham would’ve been a lot trickier to navigate if the Bengals had to start from their own 15 or 20 as opposed to their own 35. That is also without factoring in a best case scenario if Sepulveda or Roethlisberger had managed to pin the Bengals inside their own 10. At that point the Bengals may have just taken a knee.
But the Steelers gambled and lost. And their ugly sequence of events continued to begin the 3rd quarter. After a decent Stefan Logan kick return and a five yard completion to Heath Miller to start the quarter, Hines Ward was flagged for his second offensive pass interference penalty of the game.
That gave the Steelers a 2nd and 15 with 1:15 gone in the 3rd quarter. That’s when Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick-6 interception to Cincy’s Johnathan Joseph for a 30-yard TD in the wrong direction. Now the score was 13-9 Steelers (Cincy botched the extra point try).
On the play… yet again… Roethlisberger and Holmes were not on the same page. It was a blitz. The quarterback threw to a spot on a hot read. The receiver wasn’t there. It was such a bad play it made Neil O’Donnell’s picks in Super Bowl XXX look excusable. Mike Tomlin says only that the play was “miscommunication.”
No kidding. Really?
The coach wouldn’t point the finger of blame on either the quarterback or the receiver. But the network TV broadcasters made it sound like the coaches were chewing out Holmes on the sidelines after the play. So you figure it out.
Still, the Black and Gold had a four point lead and Logan reversed momentum with a 56 yard kick return all the way to the Bengal 40 yard line. But on an ensuing 3rd and 4 with 12:02 left, Roethlisberger avoided pressure as he so often does. Off balance, the Steeler QB still managed to throw a 34 yard pin-point strike to forlorn wide receiver Limas Sweed.
The second year bust (to this point anyway) out of Texas proceeded to drop the sure touchdown. By comparison, Sweed’s now infamous flub in the AFC Championship game appeared to be a circus catch attempt. This drop was utterly egregious. And it cost the Steelers seven points.
Jeff Reed capped the sequence on 4th down with a 52 yard field goal miss wide left. It was Reed’s third field goal miss in two weeks. That was an exclamation point on four-plus minutes of football ineptitude that was so bad it looked like a deleted scene from “The Replacements.” Basically this Steelers were on the wrong end of a 17 point swing in under 5:00 of true game time.
No wonder they lost in Cincinnati for the first time since 2001. And, sure, lots of other things went wrong after that point. In fact, the Steelers actually extended their lead to 20-9 before eventually blowing the game.
But if the Steelers had executed that 4:27 like the defending Super Bowl Champs they are supposed to be, well then maybe those two painstaking fourth quarter TD drives by the Bengals would’ve been moot.
If Pittsburgh has a stretch of play like that again next Sunday vs. San Diego, the Steelers will go to Detroit with a record as bad as (if not worse than) the Lions.
How does that sit with you “Steeler Nation?”