CINCINNATI – Two games into the season is too soon to totally bury the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Except that it looks like it’s time to bury the Steelers, who have scored 2 touchdowns in 2 games, won neither and inspired little confidence that change is around the corner.
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Monday night’s AFC North Monday night survival game was as physical as advertised. Every yard was earned, every tackle stiff. It was about field position and winning in the trenches and making one or two big plays at key moments to swing the momentum.
It was the kind of the game the Steelers used to win, almost all the time.
A 20-10 Bengals win — the Steelers didn’t score in the second half — dropped the Steelers to 0-2 on the season. A week after an uninspired 16-9 home loss to the Titans that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called unacceptable, the Steelers lost for the first time under Tomlin while entering the game with a losing record. So many times the Steelers have been resilient, physically and mentally tough and almost impossible to write off.
Two games into 2013, the ol’ bullies have gotten bullied.
“We have to accept and acknowledge the fact that we weren’t good enough tonight,” Tomlin said after the game. “However, I emphasize ‘tonight.’ There is a certain amount we need to swallow with this, and rightfully so, but we have to keep continuing to work and move forward.
“We aren’t going to hide from it. We are going to embrace and accept it, and understand there is some misery that comes with it. We won’t like it, but we will wear it.”
At 0-2 for the first time since 2002, the Steelers now face lots of obstacles in trying to become the first NFL team since 2008 to overcome such a start to make the postseason. The Steelers have a 2-0 Bears team coming to town next week for another national TV game, another reminder that reputation means much less than execution in the week-to-week NFL.
They showed fight on Monday. They lacked oomph — and the ability to get out of their own way. Ben Roethlisberger is throwing too much and getting hit too much. The running game is non-existent. The defense is showing its age, and though it was solid on Monday night, 17 offensive points and an average time of possession deficit of almost 10 minutes through two games is running that defense out of gas.
Father Time is undefeated. Teams that turn the ball over, commit penalties in key situations, struggle to establish the run and allow their quarterback to get hit rarely win at all.
Through two games the Steelers have 76 total penalty yards and 75 total rushing yards.
Roethlisberger has been sacked 7 times and thrown 2 interceptions. The Steelers have 1 sack and no interceptions.
“Very frustrating,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve got a long way to go. The quarterback (has) to play better, and he will.
“Not a lot of positives right now.”
The Bengals outrushed the Steelers 127-44. They took the lead for good when rookie Giovani Bernard turned on the speed and turned a simple dump pass into a 27-yard touchdown.
“If we don’t fix things, if we don’t stop the run, we won’t win a game,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.
On the Steelers first drive of the second half in a tie game, a tripping penalty on Marcus Gilbert turned a 33-yard pass into a third and 20, a sack and a punt. In what ended up a 10-point game with the Steelers running out of seconds, that sequence was as hurtful as Roethlisberger’s 34-yard pass to David Paulson in the first quarter that went to the Bengals 16-yard line before Paulson fumbled.
He was ruled down on the field and Roethlisberger hustled his team to the line to try to beat the replay, but the Steelers sent in subs from the sideline. The Bengals challenged the play and were awarded the ball.
Playing from behind for the final 21-plus minutes, the Steelers went on to not catch what looked to be an easy interception on one of many poor throws Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton made on the night, jumped offsides on third down with the Bengals in the red zone, saw a high Roethlisberger pass go off the hands of Jerricho Cotchery for an interception in the fourth quarter and picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Lamarr Woodley in the closing minutes that allowed the Bengals to kill more clock in a game that was already almost sealed.
Stink, stank, stunk. Again.
“It’s a lack of getting on the field and doing your job,” Clark said.
Roethlisberger said that the Steelers could go with more no-huddle by design, something that worked in two-minute situations against the Bengals. The problem is an already shaky offensive line lost its best player, center Maurkice Pouncey, to injury in Week One. More passes could mean more times Roethlisberger gets hit; more tempo could mean more time on the field for the defense.
And if the running game doesn’t create something, somehow, it might snowball long before snow falls in the Steel City.
“It doesn’t look like Steeler football out there,” running back Isaac Redman said. “No explanation (for the running game). There are really no excuses from me. We need to figure it out, and we need to figure it out fast.”
It’s only mid-September, but the Steelers might be running out of time.