Three thoughts off the Steelers’ 29–14 win over the Bengals.
1. Pittsburgh is finally rounding into the team that we all figured they would be in the preseason. There were the strange losses to the Bears and at home to the Jaguars, when the Steelers decided to stop running Le’Veon Bell in the second half and let Ben Roethlisberger throw five interceptions. But last week the AFC title contenders handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season, and on Sunday afternoon, they stymied a surging Bengals team that had finally figured out how to score on offense.
Now there’s a healthy Roethlisberger (who apparently has also decided he still has it), Bell who went over 100 rushing yards for the third time in four games and a top-two receiver in Antonio Brown—but that doesn’t mean the Steelers are without flaws. They went a pitiful 3-of-12 on third- and fourth- downs Sunday (not including the late fourth-down kneel), and they settled for five straight Chris Boswell field goals to end the game. But after a strange start to their season, the Steelers are back to being viewed as a legitimate threat in January.
2. The NFL has no rivalries. Consider how the NBA has always been at its best when the league can properly formulate rivalries. The NFL would be even better if anyone cared about Sunday’s Cowboys-49ers game, or if there were more Manning vs. Brady games, or if teams actually still hated each other and didn’t all trade jerseys after games. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying this does not mean the NFL would produce better contests if guys weren’t friends, but simply that more vitriol between teams would make for more entertainment.) The Steelers and Bengals are the only rivalry worth watching, in my opinion. It would have been great to see Cincinnati make the game closer in the end and see how the emotions would really flare.
3. Credit to the Steelers’ third-ranked defense for what it was able to do in the second half, but the Bengals’ offensive line can’t let those things happen. Cincinnati got the ball in Pittsburgh territory down 12 points with 11 minutes left in the game, but the Bengals went three-and-out and eventually punted from their own 31. Andy Dalton came up hobbled twice early in the game and was sacked a total of four times, including twice for minus-24 yards on what was a pivotal series for the Bengals’ chances to rebound. All four of Dalton’s sacks came in the second half as the Steelers’ overwhelmed Dalton. (An aside: For years the worst quarterback nickname in the NFL belonged to Andy Dalton. The “Red Rifle” is an affront to all nicknames, and it’s especially insulting to A Christmas Story. Dalton no longer holds the title of worst nickname, though. That goes to Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who inexplicably is now known as Pretty Boy Assassin.)