You never really emphasize the need special teams until it falters. It's always just there. They punt the football after the offense dejectedly trots off the field. They are the one's responsible for a change in possession and field position. And sometimes special teams becomes a vital headline when a team loses a football game. Cincinnati's special teams issue was Shayne Graham's often predictable missed extra points and field goals, compounded by a long snapper that often flipped the ball as if the team were punting, rather than kicking a field goal or an extra point.
What happened with the Bengals special teams Monday Night wasn't just embarrassing, it's the biggest reason that Cincinnati lost. And it wasn't just a trivial missed block here and there that enabled poor returns.
During the very first play of the ball game, Bengals backup running back Bernard Scott took the kickoff and ran down the left hashmarks. The Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders forced a fumble and Jason Worilds recovered, giving the Pittsburgh Steelers the football at Cincinnati's 25-yard line. Four plays later, the Steelers took a 7-0 lead even before two minutes expired. Alright, it happens. At least this isn't Andre Caldwell's lost fumble against the Raiders that would enable Oakland to beat Cincinnati last year. There was still over 58 minutes to fix Scott's game opening fumble.
Cincinnati received the ensuing kickoff and much like 2009, the offense pounded the football with Cedric Benson using a sixth offensive lineman, picking up 20 yards on four runs setting up a third-and-one at Cincinnati's 45-yard line. This should be easy. Bring Dennis Roland in as the sixth offensive lineman, have him turn James Harrison upfield, or wherever he wants to go, and let Benson crash through the line of scrimmage.
Instead of setting up under center to either run the football, or at least make the defense think you're running the football, Palmer drops back in shotgun and throws an incomplete pass to Chad Ochocinco. Is this the story of the season, or what? The pass was on target, though with less velocity for Chad to simply sit and catch the football. The pass was disrupted by Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, primarily because Chad doesn't step up and fight for the football; an alarming theme with Chad this year.
So you fight to live another day and punt. Well. Kevin Huber takes the snap and a massive gap opens on the left side of the line, giving William Gay plenty of room to run through unmolested, blocking the punt. Steelers ball. Six plays later, the Steelers took a 10-0 lead.
With 1:59 left in the first half, Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense takes the field, with the intention of aerial assault on Steelers defense starting on Pittsburgh's 43-yard line after Bernard Scott's 46-yard kickoff return. Well, they tried at least. Palmer successfully threw three incomplete passes on five attempts for five yards. Five yards. That was the same amount of yardage that William Gay gave Cincinnati on a five-yard illegal contact foul.
Thankfully the Bengals special teams put the Bengals in a position to score before the drive, enabled by Scott's 46-yard kickoff return, giving Mike Nugent an attempt at a 51-yard field goal. Snap. Hold. Wide left. Cincinnati's first possession in the second half began at their own 43-yard line. Thanks to a great pass by Palmer over the middle on a deep post to Jordan Shipley for 26 yards on third-and-13, Cincinnati eventually sets up fourth-and-three at Pittsburgh's 27-yard line. Mike Nugent comes in to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Snap. Hold. Wide left.
Pittsburgh's first 10 points were the result of major mistakes on special teams with a game-opening fumble and a blocked punt. Include Nugent's six points and you could argue that Cincinnati's special teams were to blame for 16 points either given up, or left on the field. Considering that the Steelers only won by six points by the end of the night, special teams clearly earns the goat of the game award. These mistakes aren't trivial missed blocks. They specifically gave up, or left points on the field. Darrin Simmons, the team's special teams coach, should be grateful if he's not fired by the end of the day. Every one else shouldn't be.