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12-05-2011, 06:00 AM
Anxieties fade as Steelers roll
Angst fades as Steelers roll
Monday, December 05, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

All right, so what is it now?

You know what I mean -- describe to me the daily feature on that big panic menu that you're always carrying around, the one with all those bulging categories of things that ail the Steelers and threaten to curdle the football season hereabouts at any minute.

This is the day after Steelers 35, Bengals 7, the day after so many things came together on a glistening charm bracelet of milestones for Mike Tomlin's team that even the All-Pro fretters in every corner of Steelers Nation can probably take at least a half-week off.

Before the Browns arrive for a very special episode of Thursday Night Football, where are you going to get your minimum daily adult requirement of Steelers anxiety?

Not getting enough turnovers.

Sorry, with two Sunday, they've got nine in the past four games.

Not enough pressure on the quarterback.

Sorry, with James Harrison's blistering three-sack Sunday and LaMarr Woodley's availability for the Browns despite a slight hamstring tweak, they again look like a defense that can get 40 sacks.

Not enough production from the ground game.

Sorry, with 111 yards on 24 bruising carries by Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, they just beat the Bengals by four touchdowns on a day Ben Roethlisberger needed to complete only 15 passes.

Still don't trust Ike Taylor's hands.

Seriously, you're down to that? Ike's got interceptions in consecutive games, and I even saw him catch one Friday at practice.

Give you one more chance.

They're peaking too soon.

There ya go!

"Hopefully not," said Big Ben, whose milestone was a 2,026th career completion, one more than Terry Bradshaw. "Hopefully we're not peaking for a couple of weeks yet."

Across a well-pleased locker room, defensive end Brett Keisel dealt sound advice.

"We just got to stay humble," Keisel said. "I'm going to go home, build a nice bonfire, and just chill."

That's good advice any time, and Keisel had been looking forward to it for close to an hour because he found himself in sweat pants on the sideline by about 3:30, so lopsided was this critical divisional argument by that point.

The Steelers sent their total assault package at the precocious Bengals. Sent Harrison frothing toward rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Sent Mendenhall to the end zone twice. Sent Mike Wallace slashing into the secondary for two more touchdowns, and sprang Antonio Brown 60 yards with the first punt return for a touchdown around here in three years.

The Bengals sent only regrets.

Marvin Lewis has seen his share of football masochism across his long Cincinnati tenure, but he still had to be stunned at these Bengals' insistence upon avoiding success Sunday.

A.J. Green put them ahead, 7-0, on their first possession, until a false start penalty erased that, then Mike Nugent booted them to a 3-0 lead instead, until a delay of game penalty erased even that, and Nugent's attempt to kick it again from 5 yards farther out was blocked by Steelers rookie Cameron Heyward.

The next time the Bengals sniffed an end zone, they were behind by three touchdowns, and on their way to 109 yards in penalties.

"The game was basically over in the second quarter [when the Steelers scored 28 points]," said Lewis. "We were never able to get back in it in the third quarter like we expected."

The Bengals expected that because they had outscored opponents in the second half 166-86 before Sunday, but that was as much because they'd been continually burying themselves early as much through standard temerity.

Any foolish thought the Bengals harbored relative to a second-half miracle fled their consciousness the moment Wallace took Roethlisberger's short flat pass, spun around a block by Emmanuel Sanders, and blasted through a half-dozen semi-interested defenders for the 19-yard touchdown that made it 35-7 late in the third quarter.

"I was anxious to get back to what I do," said Wallace, who caught only three balls for 38 yards, but drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty against Chris Crocker that triggered another scoring drive. "I've been down a little the last couple of weeks but you know I always pride myself on my yak [yards after catch] and when I see that end zone, I just try to get to it."

In the larger sense, the Steelers got back to what they do as well. They swept the Bengals for the seventh time since 2000. They spanked a division opponent by 28 points three months after getting spanked by a division opponent by 28 points, which is how this whole thing started Sept. 11 in Baltimore.

"I'm kind of an idealist and a football purist," said Tomlin on the day he became just the sixth coach in NFL history to win at least nine games in each of his first five seasons. "I'd like to think we are capable of having that sense or urgency in September, because we only get 16 opportunities to state our case. Acknowledging that we all fell short of perfection, the picture is a little bit clearer this time of year."

Those imperfections don't really amount to much right now. You may dwell on them for your own amusement, as ever.
Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com More articles by this author

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