Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?
There are a lot of reasons to dislike Ben Roethlisberger. There’s the fact that he looks like a fat, homeless Will Ferrell. That his waddling touchdown celebration looks as though he’s just been given a short cut to a Golden Corral all-you-can-eat buffet. That he defies mathematics by having a third down completion percentage of 119%. The fact that he appears to be made of Teflon, professionally and socially. But when he shook Andy Dalton’s hand at the end of a closer game than anyone was predicting two months ago, and told him “You’re playing lights out. I’ll see you in three weeks” he was right. Right that Dalton – despite two fourth quarter interceptions – has been playing superb football. Right to treat Dalton as an equal.
After a disastrous first few minutes even the most ardent Bengal optimist (i.e. me) was worried that the score could run into the triple digits. For many teams the game would have been over, for these young Bengals it was turned around in minutes. Free safety Ryan Clark, by all accounts a pretty decent fellow (for a Steeler) was so outraged (justifiably) at his enormous fine last week for a high hit that he said Roger Goodell was essentially telling him to start blowing out opponents’ knees. Indeed, the Steelers have a proud tradition of doing so, so it could be no surprise that when AJ Green stole a spectacular touchdown from under the noses of Clark and NFL poster-boy Troy Polumalu Green came down limping. After a hobbling run for a first down he was forced to spend the rest of the game riding a stationary bicycle on the sideline. In 2010 that visual would have served as a nice metaphor. In 2011 Bengals defensive back Leon Hall followed Green’s score with an interception – moments later he could have had another had he and free safety Reggie Nelson not got in each other’s way. This being the Steelers Hall left the game with a season-ending Achilles in jury.
So, for a majority of the game the Bengals played last year’s Super Bowl runners up without our two biggest play-makers on defense, without our biggest play-maker on offense, not to mention our starting slot receiver, Jordan Shipley. “We all get paid” said Reggie Nelson. Indeed. Steeler linebacker James “differently chromosomed” Harrison didn’t get a sniff at Dalton, though Bengal lineman Andrew “no Pro Bowls” Whitworth did receive a phantom holding call. Ced Benson and Bernard Scott made some hay splitting carries, while scat back-style wide receiverAndrew Hawkins – who wasn’t even supposed to make the roster – caused havoc buzzing like an insect around the elephantine Steeler defense and Benson got a key block as Dalton, under a pressure the like of which he has never seen, found Jermaine Gresham in the end zone. 17-17. Deficit wiped out. A team performance.
In the absence of defensive end Carlos Dunlap the mainly forgotten Robert Geathers led the sacking of Roethlisberger (“the sacking of Roethlisberger” has a delightfully classical air to it) though the whole defensive line got in on the act. Roethlisberger went down five times. Whitworth, Williams, Livings, Cook and Smith made sure Dalton never did.
Yes, the Steelers got the win. They may be a slightly better team than us right now, at least when we have four of our best players missing. But in three weeks, two of them will be back. Adam Jones will be healthy. Maualuga and Gresham should be more “match-fit” as we say. And, for the record, no team in the AFC has fewer defeats than us. The balance of power in the AFC North is shifting. We may or may not be there yet. But we’re pointed in the right direction.
Steelers 24 Bengals 17.