CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 13: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals walks off the field after being injured while scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Steelers won 24-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Credit the Bengals for starting the second half off well to level the score at 17-17, but really that was the only stretch of the game where the Bengals looked like they were in the same class as the Steelers.
- Behind The Steel Curtain
As you can imagine this comment stood out at me. Not just because they said that the Bengals "looked like they were in the same class" -- I would say the same thing if the Bengals won. The guys that run the great SB Nation Pittsburgh Steelers blog hold the same level of passion about their team as we do, so this isn't a counter-shot due to some perceived insult; there isn't any. Rather my mind wondered towards the questions, "was it true?"
Let's say this much. Cincinnati was as outclassed as one could possibly be during each team's respective first two possessions. Pittsburgh's offense posted 132 yards of total offense on 17 plays, taking a 14-point lead because Cincinnati's offense went three and out twice to start the game. By the four-minute mark in the first quarter, the Steelers produced more first downs (9) than snaps by the Bengals (6).
That's where the assessment of being outclassed concludes.
After the 3:42 mark in the first quarter, following Rashard Mendenhall's two-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 14-point lead, until the end of the game, Cincinnati outscored the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10. During the final 48 minutes and 42 seconds of the game, Cincinnati's offense out-gained the Steelers 271-196.
We're not talking about the end of the game here, where teams being blown out accumulate "mop-up" yardage. Ben Roethlisberger's second quarter passer rating was 37.3 and the Steelers quarterback failed to post 300 yards passing for the first time in a month. Cincinnati's defense laid a hit on Roethlisberger 13 times throughout the course of the game, including five quarterback sacks. Pittsburgh's offense had more three and out possessions (5) than the Bengals (3). Cincinnati's 109 yards rushing is the fourth time this year the Steelers defense allowed over 100 yards rushing to an opposing offense.
A rookie quarterback and rookie wide receiver, who was double-covered, connected on a 36-yard touchdown with six-time Pro Bowl safety and former defensive MVP Troy Polamalu failing to disrupt the pass. The renown Steelers defense known for an evil pass rush, especially against rookie quarterbacks, didn't post a sack and Andy Dalton was only hit twice in the pocket.
With 12:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers held onto a seven-point lead when Cincinnati's offense jogged onto the field to take a snap from the Steelers 47-yard line following a 20-yard punt return by Brandon Tate. With 2:33 remaining in the game, the Bengals offense fell 25 yards short of the endzone to tie the game when a bad pass by Andy Dalton, compounded by poor effort from Jerome Simpson, resulted in a game-sealing William Gay interception.
Conclusively a loss doesn't always mean a team was "outclassed". It was the Steelers converting big third down opportunities, including the defense's failure to prevent a 21-yard reception that converted a third-and-19. It was a missed tackle by Domata Peko and Robert Geathers from the nine-yard line that allowed Rashard Mendenhall to score the eventual game-winning touchdown. It was a deflected pass eventually intercepted because Lawrence Timmons was at the right place at the right time.
Teams that are outclassed are not 25 yards shy from tying the game with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. You're outclassed if you lose 35-7 during the regular season opener.