Sunday with the opportunity to clinch the home field throughout the playoffs, the Steelers went down to Cincinnati and opened up with a few big plays in what was an ugly and uninspired first half. They went to the locker room at the half up by ten points. They might as well have stayed there, because they slept walked through the next two quarters and ultimately gave the Bengals a win in overtime. It was a win the Bengal had tried to squander multiple times through out the game.
The only things uglier than the way the men of steel played was the condition of Paul Brown�s field and some the officiating. Bill Cowher can expect another letter of apology from the refs for the botched call on the on-sides kick which enabled the Bengals to kick the game tying FG which sent the game into OT. Bobby Shaw clearly had possession of the ball when touched, i.e., downed, by the Bengals players, but after several minutes of allowing the players to scrum as if playing rugby, a Bengal came up with it. I know it sounds like sour grapes, but the officiating this year has been horrid. I can�t help but think back to their strike during the preseason and ponder about possible connections between their unmet demands and the lousy calls. Bad call aside, and I�m sure things get ugly in that pile, I got to cast some shame on Bobby Shaw for not holding on to the rock.
Uglier still than the Zebras making a circus out of the NFL, was the grass or lack of grass at Paul Brown Stadium. My Junior High had a better field. I�ve seen cow pastures that are more suited for playing football. There was absolutely no traction between the hash marks, and it hurt all aspects of the game. None more so than the kicking game. Neil Rackers missed some so badly that he made Kris Brown look like a pro bow
I�m also wondering where several players have gone. Where was Hines Ward? I know he�s hurting, but the Bengals DBs shouldn�t be able to make him a non-factor. Joey Porter sure has been quite as of late, as has Aaron Smith. If our CBs can�t contain Darney Scott and Peter Warrick, what do you think Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt would do to them?
More concerning than either the refs or the field or the disappearance of several players, was the return of Kordell Stewart�s penchant for throwing interceptions. It seemed to me that he was locking his eyes on his targets again and thus giving DBs a jump on the play. I guess we�ll see if Sunday was an aberration or a return to his old form. Either way, he probably blew his shot at being the league MVP.
I hate to see the black & gold lose a game, but I honestly believe this could be exactly what this team needs. Thanks to the Raiders loss to Denver, the Steelers clinched home field despite their pathetic performance, making both the loss to the Bengals and next week�s game against the Browns meaningless. So why could this loss be exactly what we need? Well, it seems to me that the teams attitude had gone from one of being a humble team first, one game at a time, play your role, do your job attitude to one of being big headed, looking ahead to the playoffs and beyond, and believing the press clippings. This loss to the lowly Bengals should put that in check. It reminds me of the loss to Green Bay in the final regular season game of 1995, right before we made a run for Super Bowl XXX. Of course we lost that game, and if we face the Rams we�ll lose this one too, but after Sunday, lets just take it one game at a time. Up next, a hated foe, even in a meaningless game � Cleveland.