Brandon Tate: We'll have an MVP nomination poll on Monday like we do every week and assured that Tate will be on that. Despite the every phase of Cincinnati's roster struggling on Sunday, Brandon Tate was one of the few bright spots in a game devoid of optimism. Tate averaged 32.8 yards/return on four kickoffs. He put Cincinnati at Pittsburgh's 47-yard line and twice at Cincinnati's 37-yard line on his final three returns, with two resulting in touchdowns for the offense.
Mike Nugent: Though he wasn't asked to convert a field goal, Nugent stepped in for an injured Kevin Huber and punted for the first time since his rookie season in '05. Nugent averaged 40 yards per punt without any being returned -- and he did that facing an intense rush by Pittsburgh to force a bad punt. Solid effort to step in.
Kevin Huber: We're not talking about the injury or the punt 67-yard punt return for a touchdown (though I'm not sure why you'd kick to Antonio Brown who has burnt Cincinnati in the past). However, Huber dropped the snap on his first punt at the Bengals own one-yard line. Pittsburgh would score a touchdown two plays later. Though it's ridiculous to believe that Huber meant to do that, it's a glaring mistake that set the tone for a bad game.
Punt coverage team: With 1:27 remaining in the first, Huber punted the football 38 yards to the Steelers 33-yard line. Brown found a lane and cut up-field for the 67-yard return that would give Pittsburgh a 21-point first quarter lead. Jayson DiManche took responsibility, admitting that he failed to break down before Brown penetrated the coverage.
"We probably overplayed it more than anything and he got inside us," DiManche said via Bengals.com. "It was on me. I was head up on him. I played him too much to the outside, and he was able to get inside and make a couple of moves. That's what he does; he got us on that one. I credit him."
Everyone involved in the running game: Not sure what happened from San Diego and Indianapolis, but the Bengals couldn't get any sort of running game started. BenJarvus Green-Ellis only had four carries, forcing one conclude that he's still being impacted from the illness that kept him out of practice this week. Giovani Bernard couldn't find any lanes on the ground, averaging 2.5 yards per rush; though he did score a touchdown. However, in fairness, the Bengals were facing a 21-point deficit in the first quarter, which typically dissolves reasonable attempt to add life to the running game.
Coaching staff on time management: Two points. There's 1:14 remaining in the first half when Cincinnati took the ball from their own 20. Dalton scrambled on second down and the offense showed no urgency to continue the possession. Yes, it was likely to prevent Pittsburgh from having another possession. But you're down by 20 points; you no longer have the luxury of thinking about the Steelers. Cincinnati reached their own 41-yard line but pocketed their final timeout and sent the game into half time.
Why not throw caution to the wind? You're down by 20 points. The special teams is in the middle of having their worst game of the year and the defense isn't stopping Pittsburgh from scoring by this point.
Then, down by 23 points early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals scored a touchdown but used over seven minutes to do it. Not complaining about the result, but if you're down by 20 points with a swiss cheese defense, you can't apply a ho-hum offense that takes their time. On the their next possession, they finally applied the hurry-up but by the time they failed to convert the two-point attempt after Marvin Jones' touchdown, there was less than six minutes remaining.
The defense. This unit has shouldered Cincinnati through many wins this year, so make no mistake about it, they're the top crew in Cincinnati. However, they stepped out for a cigarette break when they needed to make a play in the fourth quarter.
Down by 10 points with under six minutes remaining, the Bengals were unable to prevent Pittsburgh from generating a first down, allowing them to wipe out over two minutes and returning the football back to Cincinnati with 3:17 remaining in the game. Though it really didn't matter -- the offense acquired one first down but couldn't break away from their own 38-yard line after three consecutive incomplete passes.