As Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden unrolled the scrap of yellowed paper at half time, his eyes scanned the words (created out of cut up newspaper headlines, of course) that spelled the end for the Cincinnati Bengals against the Pittsburgh Steelers: “JAY. I HAVE YOUR WIFE AND CHILDREN. IF YOU WANT TO SEE THEM ALIVE, YOU’LL BE TAKING ORDERS FROM ME. LOVE, BOB BRATKOWSKI.”
I’m joking, of course, the former Bengals offensive coordinator hadn’t really kidnapped his successor’s children, so we can only assume they simultaneously peed into a fountain at midnight while being struck by lightening, or that Gruden was sprinkled with pixie dust by a sprite named Puck while wondering the forests of Ancient Greece.
How else to explain this explosive, fun-loving, trick-filled attack of September turning into the “run for two yards, run backwards for two yards, drop a pass, punt” offense of 2008 and 2010 through October?
Nobody would have seen this coming a minute before half time. The previously hopeless Bengals defense not only held steady but – gasp – forced a couple of turnovers. Indeed, Chris “PEDs much” Crocker stole a phenomenal red zone interception, and when Steelers QB Roethlesberger fumbled, Andy Dalton zipped a rocket into A.J. Green’s hands, to create – essentially – a 14 point turn around. This sent the capacity crowd, with more orange on display than the Dutch office of Tropicana, into delirium, especially when, with just 90 seconds left before the half, And Dalton began to march the Bengals up the field to increase their 14-6 lead.
It’s not so much that Dalton makes too many mistakes, it’s just that when he does they tend to be spectacularly improbable, and this was no exception; attempting to stop himself mid-way through a pass he accidentally “let go”, the ball ricocheted off the back of unsuspecting lineman Kevin Zeitler’s helmet and dropped into the waiting arms of the Steeler linebacker for an interception. And this is the Steelers. They’re like a bull just before the matador comes out, but after the sneaky little fellas with the spears have been at them. Yes, they’re broken and bleeding, but they’re still 2,500 lbs of raw muscle with horns, and no matter how many pretty flags you wave, if you make one mistake they’ll still kill you.
This is, of course, exactly what happened. The defense wasn’t the worst it’s been all year (excuse the splinters in my fingers from scraping the bottom of the barrel), with undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict pulling his best Tazmanian Devil impersonation and Geno Atkins’ continued Pro Bowl form. But nonentity Steeler running back still gashed us for 122 yards. Our offense, meanwhile, was non-existent in the second half, A.J. Green’s one catch all game was the touchdown, and Andy Dalton struggled to break 100 yards. All in all, it was pretty painful. When you throw in Marvin Lewis’ inexplicable first failed challenge, and the incorrect failure of the officials to overturn their call on his second and the fact that Steelers fans are universally obnoxious, it made for a pretty miserable scenario headed into the bye week.
So what to do? Move Maualuga outside and try Burfict at Middle Line Backer? Pray that the latest number one draft pick in the secondary, Dre Kirkpatrick, makes a bigger difference than we have the right to expect? Hope that Marvin Jones recovers in time to give a viable threat opposite A.J.Green?
One thing is for certain, our season is now on the line. And having been beaten by hapless rookies like Brandon Wheedon and Ryan Tannehill, we can only cross our fingers that the next QB we face has even worse than pedigree than those guys. Oh, goodie. Turns out it’s Peyton Manning. Cheers!
Steelers 24-Bengals 17
Man Of The Match: Clearly nobody on offense deserves this, and I’m struggling to find someone on defense, but I’ll stick with Vontaze Burfict. He seemed to be the one player on the team who wasn’t intimidated by the night, or by the opposition, despite having his head ground into the turf by a fat Steeler who went unpunished. Welcome to the AFC North Vontaze.