It seemed fitting, on the night that the Steelers organization honored defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau for his 50th year in the NFL, that the game would finish the way that it did.
As promised, it began to snow when the game started. Two things that didn’t happen, the supposed mark on Hines Ward and a sack hungry defense having Bengals quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick on his back all night. But as promised, fans were treated to classic Steelers football, both on offense and defense.
It started out ugly and at first, we wondered if, given the past few weeks, if the Steelers would once again struggle through this one. At first the running game was stifled and Ben came too close too many times to be intercepted. Bengals had the lead, but they played for 60 minutes and through that time, they remembered the formula that was Steeler football.
There would be 30 passes thrown and 37 rushing attempts, and albeit against a ravaged Bengals team, and despite themselves, the Steelers would end up controlling the ball, controlling the field and registering a decisive win against a division opponent.
How much more effective is the Steelers offense when they get Heath Miller involved in the game, and we were reminded with his four receptions that not only kept drives alive, but also registered the one passing touchdown to tie the game in the second quarter. There would be drops by the wide receivers and there would be times where the Steelers would be their own worst enemy, an offensive pass interference call on Washington that negated a pass for great field position, and a rookie mistake on a punt by Limas Sweed, that turned the ball over to the Bengals, giving them great field position, really, really, really great field position.
But we would see classic Ben Roethlisberger, behind an oline that gave him great protection in this game. We would see the quarterback getting out of the pocket, using his feet to extend plays, to even rush for a touchdown. This was the Roethlisberger we had gotten use to watching. And as the air game got going, the run game would open up. We would see more of Gary Russell this game, who would get the short yardage that the Steelers seemed to have been missing in the past few games. Russell would also get one of two rushing touchdowns in the game. Mewelde Moore was key in the second half to the Steelers maintaining control of the ball, when he was able to find the open holes and gain positive yards. And in this offense, we wondered if Bruce Arians finally got it right, with the different play action, slants and screens.
Of course, the defense continued to show why they are the number one defense in the league. Although, they would only get to Fitzpatrick once, they would continue to stop the Bengals running game, keeping Cedric Benson to 35 yds total and covering the Bengals receivers only allow Fitzpatrick to connect for 17 out of 35 times. And this time, it would be James Farrior who would lead the team on tackles, seeming to be there to stop the Bengals on important 3d and short plays. The game was over, like last week, when Troy Polamalu came up with an interception that kept the Bengals from closing in on the 12 point spread.
In the end, Ben would throw 15 for 30 for 243 yards with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. The Steelers running division of Moore/Parker/Davis/Russell would accumulate 104 yards rushing. Though they lost both Willie Parker and Santonio Holmes in the second half, they just improved and finished the game with the formula that they were known for. Not bad for only three days off.