The Pittsburgh Steelers must win at Cincinnati Monday night to prevent their first 0-2 start under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive signal-caller Larry Foote and third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling are out for the season. The Steelers haven’t shown much of a pass rush, and have no semblance of a running game.
With all that working against the Steelers, beating a team with Super Bowl aspirations like the Bengals might seem like a tall order, but at least the game is on a Monday night.
So what does that mean?
Since 1992, when Bill Cowher became head coach, the Steelers are 25-9 on “Monday Night Football.” Tomlin took the baton from Cowher and has seamlessly maintained the Steelers’ tradition of Monday-night dominance. He’s 7-1 on Mondays.
Tomlin’s Monday-night debut turned into James Harrison’s coming-out party in 2007. Harrison had 3.5 sacks and an interception in the Steelers’ 38-7 thrashing of the Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh.
A year later, the Steelers met the Ravens again on a Monday night at Heinz Field. They had dropped to 2-1 the week before and were down 13-3 late in the third quarter. They began to hear boos from their fans, just like they did during Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans.
But the Steelers turned the game around with 14 points in 13 seconds. The go-ahead touchdown came when Harrison strip-sacked Joe Flacco and LaMarr Woodley picked up the fumble and went in for the score. The Steelers eventually won 23-20 in overtime.
The Steelers also defeated the Washington Redskins 23-6 on a Monday night later in the season and went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.
In 2010, the Steelers were 12 yards away from blowing a 20-point lead for the first time in franchise history, but held on and defeated the Bengals 27-21 on a Monday night in Cincinnati.
The Steelers’ Monday-night charm seems to be wearing off, however, over the past two years.
Tomlin’s first Monday-night loss came at San Francisco in 2011. Ben Roethlisberger came back too soon from a high-ankle sprain he suffered 11 days earlier, and the 49ers defeated the Steelers 20-3.
Last season, the Steelers defeated the one-win Kansas City Chiefs 16-13 in overtime, but it was a hollow victory.
They lost Roethlisberger for three games with chest and shoulder injuries, and he wasn’t the same when he returned. Even though the Steelers improved to 6-3, their 2012 season was essentially de-railed on that Monday night.
Lately, Mondays have been more like Thursdays for the Steelers.
The Steelers are 9-10 all-time on Thursdays, and some of those victories have come at a cost.
In the 2009 season opener, Troy Polamalu hurt his knee during the Steelers’ 13-10, overtime win over the Titans on a Thursday night. He missed 11 games that season. The Steelers lost five straight at one point in 2009, including a 13-6 loss to the one-win Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night.
The high-ankle sprain that rendered Roethlisberger ineffective at San Francisco in 2011 happened during a Thursday win over the Browns at Pittsburgh.
In their Thursday-night appearance last season, the Steelers lost 26-23 at Tennessee to a team that started 1-4 and allowed 181 points in its first five games.
The last time the Bengals defeated the Steelers in prime time was on a Thursday in 1995. The Steelers defense allowed Jeff Blake to look like Ken Anderson. Blake completed 18 of 22 passes with three touchdowns in a 27-9 victory at Three Rivers Stadium.
That loss dropped the Steelers to 3-4 and served as a wake-up call for a team that reached the Super Bowl.
If the Steelers need another wake-up call after what happened last Sunday, then they’re Rip Van Winkle.
If they don’t make more Monday-night memories at Cincinnati, it will be a forgettable 2013 season.