Defense can't do it all

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger, after another Super Bowl-like performance, credited the Cincinnati Bengals for his 30.7 game passer rating.

"Give them a lot of credit," he said after the Steelers' 28-20 loss. "They're a great defense."

Ugh.

The great defense was the one Roethlisberger wasn't facing Sunday afternoon. The Steelers allowed just 246 yards of offense, 87 yards rushing, recorded six sacks, and forced three turnovers. It was a dominating performance and should've ended in an easy win if not for poor coaching decisions in two of the three phases of the game and two ridiculous post-play penalties.

"And we could've had a couple more balls but they bounced up to them," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher. "I thought defensively, against a very potent offense, we did some good things."

In the second half, the Steelers threw their playbook out the window and settled on using their base defense for the most part. The result was a 64-yard half for the Bengals, who gained 39 of those yards on two one-play touchdown drives following turnovers.

After halftime, the Bengals went four possessions before making a first down, and that one came on the absurd fourth-and-one quarterback sneak at the Cincinnati 30 with 14:25 remaining. Except for the two touchdowns, it was the Bengals' only first down of the second half.

"I wouldn't say it was dominating," said linebacker James Farrior. "Our red-zone defense was terrible; we gave up four scores. That's a phase of our defense and it wasn't good enough today."

The Bengals' two touchdown passes in the second half came from the Pittsburgh 9 and the Pittsburgh 30 one play after turnovers. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught both passes.

In the first half, the Bengals scored from the 16 and the 3 on passes to Chris Henry.

So, the Steelers allowed three red-zone touchdowns and another from the 30. Perhaps the defense, after being stung by the turnovers, was a bit deflated. After all, helmets had been sent flying behind the bench after Ricardo Colclough's glaring punt-fielding problem finally put the defense in a big-game, big-time hole. But the defense would not blame Colclough.

"When we get our backs to the wall, we've got to suck it up and hold them to field goals," said defensive end Brett Keisel.

Regardless of their red-zone trouble, the Steelers played a far better defensive game than they did a week ago when Jacksonville scored only nine points. Against the Bengals, the Steelers stuffed the run and wrapped up receivers at the point of reception. Rudi Johnson gained only 47 yards on the ground and Carson Palmer was held under 200 yards passing. What was the key?

"Not tipping our defense," said Farrior. "Carson Palmer was trying to hold the snap count and trying to see if we were going to show our coverages and our blitzes, but we held it pretty good and he didn't really have an idea what we were going to do. I think that helped out a lot."

"The thing you have to do against Carson Palmer is make him move around," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "You can't let him sit there and keep throwing the ball. After awhile he didn't know where our linemen were coming from and I think defensively, as we took over there in the second half, they were confused, they didn't know where we were coming from, and they couldn't block us. And then momentum changed."

And then the coach put Colclough back to return a punt. He fumbled it and kicked it – as he'd done throughout training camp and preseason – and the game turned. The defense, for all of its outstanding play, could not hold the Bengals to field goals.

"We're a football team," said linebacker Clark Haggans. "We are a close team and everybody here knows we're a team, so we all face adversity together, like we did last year, and we've just got to keep plugging away."

But that's not going to make anyone in Pittsburgh feel better the next two weeks.

"I still feel like we're the better team," said Keisel. "I feel like they stole one today."


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