One thing’s for sure about the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.
They don’t quit.
They didn’t quit after starting the season 0-4.
They didn’t quit after one of the most humiliating losses in their history at New England.
They didn’t quit after last week’s loss to the Dolphins, their most heartbreaking defeat in the post-Tebow era.
The Steelers kept their infinitesimal playoff hopes alive Sunday night with a 30-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.
A week earlier, the Steelers stood dazed on the snow-covered Heinz Field grass, incredulous that a last-second miracle could be taken away – along with any realistic chance of making the playoffs – because Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds.
The Steelers didn’t allow Sunday’s game to be decided by a few inches. They tied a franchise record for points in the first quarter, taking a 21-0 lead.
Even though they entered the game riding a three-game winning streak and had a chance to climb into the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Bengals looked like the team trying to recover from an emotional loss.
Kevin Huber dropped a punt at the Bengals’ 1-yard line, and Le’Veon Bell took it in from there to make it 7-0. Cedric Peerman inexplicably called for a fair catch at the 9-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, and Ziggy Hood’s sack snuffed out that possession at the 10.
Once the Steelers crossed midfield on their opening possession, every play from scrimmage in the first quarter was run in Bengals territory, and the Steelers took advantage. Brown caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to make it 14-0, and later returned a punt 67 yards for his second touchdown and a 21-0 Steelers lead.
Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin broke Huber’s jaw on the play and knocked him out of the game. Yes, that was a linebacker jacking a punter and Garvin might get fined for the play, according to Pro Football Talk. But it showed just how relentless the Steelers were on Sunday.
Brown caught five passes for 66 yards and is third in the NFL with 95 receptions. Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards. He threw an interception, but it was his first in five weeks.
Hood recovered a fumble – forced by Troy Polamalu – to go with his sack. The Steelers allowed the Bengals to convert on just four of their 14 third downs.
Heath Miller didn’t have a huge night statistically, catching four passes for 35 yards, but his presence was a reminder of how sorely the Steelers missed him in the first meeting between these teams.
The Steelers led 3-0 in that game when Miller’s replacement, David Paulson, fumbled the ball away in the red zone. The Bengals converted that turnover into a touchdown and won 20-10 as the Steelers dropped to 0-2.
NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth on multiple occasions pointed out the what-ifs that hang over this 6-8 Steelers season.
Perhaps a healthy Miller and Bell could have helped the Steelers avoid an 0-4 start. But Collinsworth also lumped into the what-ifs the 11 plays of 50-plus yards allowed by the defense this season, the most in the NFL.
Uh, Cris, that’s kind of like saying Melissa McCarthy could run a marathon if she lost 120 pounds.
The Steelers must bear the cross of all those big plays against them. They’re not bad breaks. They’re telltale signs of the many holes in their defense, and the heart the Steelers have shown in bouncing back from so many calamities this season won’t be enough to overcome that.
The Steelers didn’t let the Bengals hammer the last nail into their coffin like they did last year at Heinz field, but there’s a chance they could be mathematically eliminated before they step onto Lambeau Field at 4:25 p.m., Sunday.
At this point, we should be resigned to a second straight non-playoff season. It’s time to adopt a spoiler mentality. The Steelers didn’t have an opportunity to play spoiler last year because they hosted Cleveland in their only meaningless game.
This year, the Steelers can be spoilers and exact a small amount of retribution for Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers are 7-6-1 with a chance to win the NFC North. They’re feeling good about themselves after coming back from a 26-3 deficit to beat the Dallas Cowboys 37-36 Sunday in Dallas. The Steelers can poke a hole in their tires with a win Sunday. There’s even an outside chance they could knock them out of the playoff race.
Either way, it wouldn’t be full revenge for the Packers’ victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, but it would be something.
It’s also one last chance for the Steelers to get their licks in against a team they could be watching on TV in January.