By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not played well since a mid-season injury, and another poor performance cost his team a playoff spot.
Roethlisberger, who surrendered a pick six early in the game, threw another interception with 14 seconds left to give the Cincinnati Bengals the ball near midfield. One 21-yard pass to A.J. Green put the Bengals into field-goal range, and Josh Brown’s 43-yarder secured a 13-10 victory and knocked the Steelers from playoff contention.
Shaun Suisham had not missed a field goal less than 50 yards this season, but he shanked a 24-yarder early in the game. He then missed a 53-yarder with less than two minutes remaining that would have given the Steelers the lead, but that was a couple yards short. The two misses doubled his season total.
Early in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers offense is just not good enough. Play-calling, play-making and playoffs are all in question right now. The defense, however, has been spectacular more often than not. The unit, ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, was 27th in takeaways and 21st in sacks. It has forced three turnovers, all by Cortez Allen (two picks and a forced fumble) and has five sacks. The O-line has allowed five, but that’s another story entirely.
The Steelers finally tied the score on a 40-yard field goal by Suisham, but two trips into the red zone and just one field goal is not going to cut it the rest of the way. The fourth quarter is going to be huge.
Quite a mixed bag for the Steelers in the first half. The defense came to play, although a career-long celebration style by Brett Keisel after consecutive first-quarter sacks was flagged for 15 yards, going to the ground to celebrate. We can’t make this stuff up.
Lawrence Timmons had an excellent first half as well, making several plays including a stop on a swing pass to Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham. Cortez Allen also played well in primarily single coverage on A.J. Green.
Allen had some great help from safety Troy Polamalu on a long pass play during a late first-half drive. Green had his hands on the ball, might have been out of bounds, but he would have caught it if Polamalu wouldn’t have racked him. At the end of that same drive, Keenan Lewis — obviously struggling with a sore hip — made a play on Marvin Jones in the end zone on a third-down pass.
The Bengals added a field goal to pad their first-half advantage to 10-0 at the two-minute warning. Josh Brown, kicking for injured starter Mike Nugent, boomed a 41-yarder to cap a short drive that was aided by a pitiful punt by Steelers rookie Drew Butler.
Offensively, the Steelers were inconsistent to poor. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed Mike Wallace on a long bomb early and threw a pick six to Leon Hall. The Steelers also had a third-and-short play from the 6 and threw an incompletion into the end zone from an empty backfield. Really, an empty backfield? Shaun Suisham then missed a 24-yard field goal after making 25 straight from less than 50 yards.
The Steelers got a break with less than two minutes remaining, as Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown for a 60-yard touchdown. The Steelers got to within 10-7 at the half, but it could have been much worse.
Notes: Baron Batch suffered a right arm injury, possibly broke it, in the second quarter and did not play the rest of the way. … Heath Miller suffered a right knee injjury that could potentially need surgery as well.