Take It For What It Is Worth

CINCINNATI - I know what you're thinking. It was only the Bengals. So the Steelers beat up on the team that is the laughing stock of the league, heck, the laughing stock of all professional sports.<p> Big deal, you say. Maybe. But there is something to be said for the Steelers beating the Bengals Sunday and how they did it. The Steelers beat up on the Bengals in Sunday's 34-7 victory here at Paul Brown Stadium the way good teams are supposed to manhandle inferior clubs.

Does that mean the Steelers are a good team? No, not yet. But they took some major steps towards re-establishing themselves as a major player in the AFC playoff race.

For the first time this season, the Steelers looked like the team that had the best record in the AFC last year at 13-3. They ran the football well, getting 211 yards on the ground, led by Jerome Bettis' 109 yards and two touchdowns. They threw the ball effectively, especially in the first half when the game was in question.

Tommy Maddox's final numbers will look mediocre to anyone who didn't watch the game. But when you consider Maddox was 12-of-16 for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first half, you see a different picture.

And the defense looked like the one that rolled to the No. 1 ranking in the NFL last season, allowing 268 total yards - a good portion of which came in garbage time, the entire second half - forcing four turnovers and sacking Bengals' quarterback Jon Kitna five times.

"I definitely think we re-established some things today," said linebacker Joey Porter, who continued what should be his first Pro Bowl season by leading the Steelers with seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

"We wanted to get back to doing the things we hadn't been doing, forcing turnovers and making them play our style of game. We came out here and played mad."

The Steelers were mad. Mad that they hadn't played as well as they had last season. Mad that they were just 1-3. Mad that they were no longer getting much respect. So they went out and earned some of that back.

The question is, can they play like that week-in and week-out or was Sunday an anomaly? "We don't need to get too high with this," said strong safety Lee Flowers, who matched his career output in interceptions by picking off a pair of Kitna passes Sunday. "We just have to keep on building on this next week. That's how we have to play. What you saw today on the field was what everyone has been expecting. We've just got to keep it going."

That will be the key. After Sunday's games, the Steelers will enter the NFL's seventh week of play locked in a tie for first place in the AFC North with Baltimore.

That's where they were expected to be from the beginning of this season. That they are 2-3 and in that position shouldn't matter. That their only victories have come via a fluke against Cleveland three weeks ago and against the hapless Bengals should also be of little consequence.

A win is a win in the NFL, where it has become apparent this season that any team can lose on any given week.

And let's remember, it was those same hapless Bengals who beat the Steelers here 26-23 in overtime last season.

--Dale Lolley

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