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fordfixer
09-28-2009, 12:50 AM
Steelers blow 20-9 lead in 4th quarter
A dropped TD pass, a tactical error and a miscommunication set the stage for stunning loss
Monday, September 28, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09271/1001384-66.stm

CINCINNATI -- Mike Tomlin and his players preached it so often this year, and yesterday it hit home to the Steelers as rudely as bird droppings on their Lombardi Trophy.

If their loss in the fourth quarter in Chicago the week before did not do it, the bigger collapse yesterday in a place they have owned since they built Paul Brown Stadium might have turned the trick.

There was plenty of soul-searching in what traditionally had been a jubilant visitors' locker room for the Steelers here the past decade, and it came after the Bengals stunned them with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a 23-20 victory.

The loss snapped the Steelers' eight-game winning streak here, and it was the second time they had lost here in the 10-year history of the stadium.

"It's just a numbing feeling right now," offensive tackle Willie Colon said, speaking for virtually all in his locker room.

This is not last season. Last season, they won a Super Bowl; last season, they won games in the fourth quarter; last season, they did not blow big leads in the final minutes.

No, this season looks nothing like their last one as they tumbled to 1-2, smacking the Bengals all over the ring only to look up and find themselves on the floor at the end, knocked out by a team they had beaten in 15 of their past 19 meetings.
PG graphic:

Tough start for Steelers

"We don't need what transpired out there to let us know it's a new season," Tomlin said.

"I don't want to make this a habit, but it appears to be for the second week. We've got some work to do. We have to finish games better."

If the Steelers fail to win the AFC North Division -- and they now trail Baltimore (3-0) by two games and Cincinnati (2-1) by one -- they can look back at this one with regret. They not only blew a 20-9 lead, they failed to extend it when they not only had the Bengals on the ropes but had them tied around their necks.

Cincinnati won it with two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes. Cedric Benson ran 23 yards for a touchdown with 9:14 to go to cut the lead to 20-15 and Carson Palmer tossed a 4-yard pass to Andre Caldwell with 14 seconds left to win it.

But the seeds for this loss came much earlier. Tomlin blamed "the details" on their loss. He could have described them as blunders. Consider:

Instead of punting late in the second quarter with a 13-0 lead, Tomlin opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 at Cincinnati's 35. A pass failed and, with 1:06 to go, the Bengals had enough time to set up Shayne Graham's 34-yard field goal to crack the ice.

At the time, the Steelers had 258 yards to the Bengals' 91.

On the first drive of the second half, Santonio Holmes ran the wrong way and Ben Roethlisberger threw the right way, but cornerback Johnathan Joseph was there and not Holmes and he intercepted and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the down-and-out Bengals were back in it at 20-15, even if they did botch the extra point.

"A miscommunication," both Tomlin and Roethlisberger described it, not wanting to put the finger on their wide receiver.

Limas Sweed, who caught his first pass of the season earlier, dropped a 34-yard touchdown pass, all alone in the end zone. Jeff Reed followed by missing a 52-yard field-goal attempt wide to the left.

"You saw what I saw," Tomlin said. "He dropped it."

Those dirty details apparently surfaced long before kickoff. Rashard Mendenhall did not play on offense. He was punished by Tomlin, who explained that "Rashard wasn't on his details this week, so I chose not to play him on offense."

If they keep paying attention to detail like that, they could make their 2006 Super Bowl hangover look like a party.

"I'm at critical red, state of red," Colon said, when asked what the state of urgency is for this team. "We have to get going now.

"We have to finish games. We're not doing the little things, and it's catching up to us. If we don't change, it's going to be a rotten season."

The strange part is they were beginning to do the things they had not done in the first two games. Willie Parker ran 25 times for 93 yards and caught a 27-yard pass for a touchdown. Roethlisberger, who completed 22 of 31 for 276 yards, was sacked just once and scored another touchdown on a 1-yard sneak.

Reed, who missed both field-goal tries in a three-point defeat in Chicago, made his first two, although from only 19 and 24 yards when the offense stalled again.

After one quarter and change, it looked ridiculously easy with the Steelers on top, 13-0. They outgained the Bengals, 152 yards to minus-10 and never punted until the fourth quarter.

But the field goal at the end of the half and the pick-six touchdown at the beginning of the next one breathed life into the Bengals, and the more details the Steelers let go, the more Palmer and Cincinnati got into a groove.

"Hanging in there was obviously a test for the guys," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, embracing one of his bigger regular-season victories. "We didn't get off to a good start. ... We kind of dug ourselves in a hole."

That turned out OK on a day in which men dressed in black and gold extended their hands and helped rescue the Bengals.
For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at http://www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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