“We’re the best reality TV show out there. Forget about the Kardashians. We have them beat.”
Leave it to Cam Heyward to find the best way to describe the ongoing spectacle that is Steelers/Bengals football.
Monday night’s game was a spectacle. I watched it expecting Russell Crowe to come out and shout “Are you not entertained?” It felt like the entire evening was a miasma, a train wreck that you both wanted to turn away from and found yourself unable to do so.
The game started out badly when just a few minutes into the game the Steelers were confronted with the image of Ryan Shazier laying on the ground, his legs seemingly unable to move while he clutched at his back.
Is it any wonder that the Steelers, as a team, were out of sorts for most of the first half? The truth of the matter is that losing Ryan Shazier is, to the defense, like losing Ben Roethlisberger would be to the offense. He’s the defensive QB. As Zach Metkler, another SCU member commented to me last night “Cam Heyward might be the leader, but Shazier is the heart of that defense.”
There are so many problems with losing Shazier that have to be overcome not the least of which is simple communication. He’s the signal caller, he’s the guy who gets everyone in line and in place.
It was an ugly game. As bad or worse than the playoff game a few years ago. Still, buried in there is some good stuff as well. Let’s take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Monday night’s Steelers Bengals game.
Call it heart. Call it fortitude. Call it whatever you want. This team has it. Abundantly.
People keep saying that the Steelers “don’t panic”. I like to think back to one of my favorite Tomlinisms, which I think should be revived. They don’t blink. They played about as bad the first half of football as they could, and the Bengals tried hard to sabotage themselves throughout the night (7 billion penalty yards is a lot), but somehow the Steelers found a way to overcome the emotional and physical adversity and come back from a 17 point deficit to win.
Some of the Nation may not like it. They may not understand that this isn’t a game they “played down” to a lesser foe. That narrative does not apply in this game. Not considering the way it all played out. This has been a narrative all year long – these are games that Steelers teams would lose in the past.
Not this season.
This team has been through the fire, and they have come out hardened. They aren’t perfect, and they aren’t always pretty – but they are winning and that’s the bottom line.
I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t call out Sutton. The thing is, he didn’t, statistically speaking, produce all that much. He had one pass defense. That’s his stat line.
The thing is, it was a huge pass defense. It’s the start of the third quarter, and the Bengals look like maybe they have an open A.J. Green and are going to start moving the ball right down the field.
BOOM – Cam Sutton blows the play up. This is a guy who hasn’t played, who has only recently come back from IR. It was a huge play and set the tone for the defense the rest of the way.
Let this sink in. A.J. Green had 77 yards 2 TDs in the first half. He had a big fat hairy zero and zero and zero for the second half.
That’s not all because of Cam Sutton, but that breakup was a starting point.
7 sacks as an inside linebacker deserves some notice. Vince has had a good, maybe even a great year. Being able to compose himself after seeing one of his best friends laid out and not knowing what the prognosis was, well, that took grit. To come back in the second half and produce the way he did was impressive.
The Killer Bees
Ben – 24/40, 290 yards 2 TD, 1 INT
Brown – 8 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD
Bell – 76 yards rushing, 5 catches for 106 yards and 1 TD – 182 total yards from scrimmage
Ben, Brown, and Bell were a force that could not be stopped in the second half. Antonio Brown with his injured toe remained better than anyone else. Let this nugget sink in – after last night’s game, Antonio Brown now leads the league in catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs. What has Brown done for you? A lot.
Le’Veon Bell posterized Dre Kirkpatrick again and made the entire Bengals defense look foolish as he did his own Tony Toe Tap impersonation running down the sidelines for the “easiest TD of my life.” All that and he went over the 1000 yard mark for the season.
Ben was like a conductor of a well-oiled orchestra. He had a great second half and became only the eighth player in the history of the league to surpass 50,000 yards passing. When they play like that it’s beautiful music, no question.
Those are, of course, the main B’s. But the other B’s contributed as well. Martavis Bryant had 4 catches for 40 yards and drew a PI call down the field. Not to mention the spark he provided by bursting up the middle for a KO return for a TD. Yeah, I know it got called back, but man was it pretty.
And then there was Chris Boswell.
Game-winning field goal. Again. But that’s not even the best of it. He’s NEVER missed a kick in Cincinnati. He ended the first half getting the Steelers their first points, and ended the game getting them their last. Throw in another FG during the second half and he was 3 for 3.
Not everyone will agree, but I really don’t care. Boz is a Killer Bee. That man is clutch.
Andy Dalton?!? It may come as a surprise to see him called out here, but hold that righteous rage for just a moment.
As has already been stated, this was a game that was played under a pall, a shadow. That being the shadow of Ryan Shazier’s injury and the uncertainty that goes along with it. After the game, several Steelers players chose to kneel and pray for Shazier and his recovery.
So did Andy Dalton.
In a contest that was fueled by bad blood and below the line play, it was nice to see someone display the sportsmanship that is supposed to be the backbone these games. Respect to the Red Rifle for doing the right thing.
You have to give it to the coaching staff, and to the players. They figured out how to manage the situation, redirect their emotion and come out and play a second half that was inspired. That’s in great part due to Mike Tomlin and his own personality. He’s not a perfect coach, but he’s done a fantastic job with this team this year. He’s been criticized in the past for not making good half-time adjustments, but Tomlin and his staff have figured things out this year.
Gruden’s ridiculous offense at JuJu’s hit on Vontaze Burfict (a hit that was illegal based on the letter of the rules, but barely) was just ludicrous. The repeated protestations of outrage lost whatever authority they had when he simply glossed over the Iloka hit on Antonio Brown.
Let’s talk truth here. JuJu’s hit was a football play. The block was legitimate, even if it was executed in such a way that the hit was flag worthy. The standing over Burfict was wrong, stupid and immature. That was a penalty and a bad look. It wasn’t dirty. There wasn’t a dirty thing about that play. Yes, there was helmet to helmet contact, but JuJu led with his shoulder, not his helmet.
Then look at the Iloka hit. Brown is in the air and the very definition of a defenseless player. Iloka leads with his helmet. Yes, you read that right. In college ball that would have been called targeting and he would have been thrown out of the game. He went for AB’s head. JuJu didn’t go for Burfict’s head.
Gruden should have sense enough to be able to see the difference in these two plays, and disregard (but not excuse) the taunting when determining which was the more egregious foul.
Gruden drooled so much over Burfict all night that I almost thought they were going to meet in a hotel room after the game to consummate their love. Burfict is the dirtiest player in the league, and I don’t care how “nice” of a guy he is off the field. On the field, he’s an asshat.
Do I Even Have To Say It?
There is so much “ugly” in this game, that finding one thing to highlight was a challenge. Then again it actually felt pretty easy now that I think about it.
The. Refs. Stink.
When even the brain-dead announcers are criticizing the refs, you know that it’s bad. What is holding? A jersey tug? A slight hand on the shoulder? How is holding someone’s hand PI when mugging them isn’t? The inconsistency in calling within just this game was so ludicrous that it almost defies my ability to be outraged!
They stink. Fire them all and bring in the college guys. I’m telling you, it can’t get worse.
At the end of it, all the Steelers sit at 10 and 2. First place in the AFC North, first place in the AFC. It was not pretty, not even close. They are winning ugly, but the bottom line is they are winning. I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss (if there is such a thing) any day.
For now, I don’t even want to look ahead. My thoughts and prayers are at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center with Ryan Shazier. The reports are mostly encouraging, but nothing is definitive yet.
Let’s hope that he’s OK, and walks out of that hospital sooner rather than later.