Prior to Ricardo Colclough’s muffed punt in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s Bengals-Steeler game, the Bengals were having a bit of trouble moving the ball. Colclough is usually not in the game when the Steelers are “backed up” near their goal line because his hands and judgment are not the best. Cowher decided the Steelers had enough room to get a decent return and kept Santonio Holmes on the bench. The Bengals punter boomed a 58 yarder. A punt of that distance means the kicker has outkicked the coverage – he’s kicked the ball farther than the coverage squad can effectively maintain lane discipline and interrupt the formation of blocking lanes and wedges, etc. Colclough knew this as well – and he took his eye off the ball to sneak a peak. The ball hit him in the head. The Bengals recovered the ball at the 9 yard line – and the next play was a touchdown: Palmer to Houshmanzadeh (championship!).
Why are Steeler fans, like myself, so annoyed? Before this miscue (an unforced error in tennis talk), the Steelers were up 17-14. In the five second half possessions before this fumble, the vaunted Bengals offense had managed 3 punts, 1 interception, 1 fumble and 22 yards – on 21 plays.
Cincinnati won this game because the defense and special teams kept the room from falling in during this part of the game. The Steelers only managed 10 points in the 3rd quarter. The Steelers were held scoreless in the latter part of the first quarter and the entire second quarter when they were headed to a 14-0 lead before Ben Roethlisberger misfired and found a Bengal defender instead of Heath Miller in the endzone.
The Steelers could blame Ricardo Colclough for his error as the primary cause of the loss, but there are some considerable kinks to be worked out on offense. The Steelers still do not have viable replacements for Antwan Randle-El or Jerome Bettis. While the team rushed for 170 yards yesterday, the turnovers and the failures on 3rd down were insurmountable. This team is still trying to find itself – to claim a 2006 identity. It has not happened yet, but there should be no cause for excessive celebration in Cincinnati.
After all, the road team has won the last five games. If Cincinnati requires 5 turnovers to beat the Steelers in the Queen City rematch in December, it won’t happen. There is considerable room for improvement on both sides. Perhaps the thing a Bengals fan should take away from yesterday is that on a day when Carson Palmer is sacked 6 times, fumbles, throws two picks, Rudi Johnson averages less than 3 yards per carry and Chad Johnson has only 1 catch for 11 yards – Cincy still got the job done. They didn’t come to Pittsburgh to get style points. They came to get a W. Mission accomplished.
Insert cliche: “The Bengals can beat you a lot of different ways.”