Another epic collapse averted
Tuesday, November 09, 2010 12:30 AM
It was 2009 all over again -- almost.
The Steelers came perilously close last night to revisiting the nightmares of last season. There were, in fact, inches from possibly blowing a 20-point to the Cincinnati Bengals.
But not this time. This time the defense held -- barely.
A fourth-down, on-the-money pass from Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer to Jordan Shipley, which would have been good for a first down inside the 5-yard line with 34 seconds remaining, was jarred loose by a vicious -- and clean -- hit by James Harrison.
This is one Harrison hit the NFL won’t review. But the Bengals and Shipley won’t soon forget it.
It enabled the Steelers to win, 27-20, and go to 6-2 and remain tied for first place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens.
For the longest time the game had the look and feel of an easy Steelers' victory. The Bengals had the look of the hapless, dysfunctional team they often are. It wasn’t so much that the Steelers were mastering the Bengals but that the Bengals just couldn’t get much right.
The victory seemed all but sealed on the first play of the fourth quarter when the Steelers took a 27-7 lead on a 39-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El to Mike Wallace. Nice call, Bruce Arians.
But the rest of the quarter had the trappings of a disaster as the defense bent and broke -- but finally held.
After the Steelers went ahead by 20, the Bengals came right back with a five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive with Palmer throwing 27 yards to Terrell Owens for the score.
On the Steelers next possession, Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted and with the help of three penalties against the Steelers totaling 50 yards, the Bengals scored again.
The Steelers’ offense took 5 minutes, 6 seconds off the clock on their next possession as seven straight carries by Rashard Mendenhall moved the ball 43 yards to the Bengals’ 28. It was old-fashioned Steeler football and the way Bill Cowher teams had protected so many leads. But Jeff Reed, who earlier made a 53-yard field goal, missed from 46 yards and the Bengals were very much alive.
This set the stage for some high drama as Cincinnati took over with 3:59 remaining and Palmer moved the Bengals from their 36 to the Steelers' 12 before the drive was stopped by Harrison’s hit.
The fourth quarter was a vivid reminder of last season when the Steelers became famous for blowing leads in the final 15 minutes.
The defense was solid for most of the game, limiting the Bengals to only 272 yards total and 54 on the ground.
The Steelers offense was ordinary next to some of the high standards set previously by Roethlisberger. He completed 17 of 27 passes for 163 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating was a below average 76.6. Mendenhall carried 22 times for 99 yards.
But it was a win that maybe will finally get 2009 out of the minds of the Steelers defense.
The Steelers' 6-2 record is an even more ominous reminder of 2009. That was their record after eight games last season. They then lost their next five.
The Steelers will be challenged strongly in six days when they play the New England Patriots at Heinz Field.