The conclusion of Sunday’s Bengals win over Pittsburgh was both exciting and strange. It’s not very often you get to witness a last-second come-from-behind victory over a hated rival. Seeing it occur in your own stadium is even better. See you in Week 10 if you still matter, Stiller fans!
But an overall crappy effort and the strangeness with which the Bengals conducted their end-of-game drive made Carson Palmer’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 14 seconds remaining feel just as relieving as it did exciting. Playcalling throughout the day and time management during the final drive were frequently questionable. Will this team be making a habit of screen passes to a wide receiver on third-and-1 near midfield? Did Palmer really need to spike the ball after gaining a first down at the 15 with two timeouts left? Is fourth-and-10 a reasonable position to put yourself in if you expect to win consistently?
The team nearly ran out of time even with incomplete passes stopping the clock. The whole “run the clock down to zero” plan started — and worried fans — before the two-minute warning. Out of that break the Bengals ran a QB sneak and took 30 seconds off the clock. The game-winning drive was hardly efficient — it took 16 plays and 5 minutes to go 71 yards.
After the game one frustrated local fan sat on his Ikea couch, India Pale Ale in hand and said: “I’m sitting here drunk and I know when to call a timeout. These guys get paid millions of dollars.”
Fourth and 10. Third and goal with 20 seconds left. Down by 5 because you messed up an extra point and then failed a two-point conversion to get it back. This win was not the long-awaited symbol of a franchise’s turnaround. It was one team dominating another only to have a couple big mistakes and a couple freakish plays lose the game. If the Bengals and Steelers played again tomorrow would you really bet on the striped team winning?
The win is huge, there’s no denying that. After two straight losses Pittsburgh must be concerned about its path to the playoffs. The difference between 8-8 and 9-7 in the NFL is monumental, and every game could mean the difference between late-season playoff chase or spending December considering 2010 draft prospects. Kind of makes the Denver loss hurt even more…
But just as worrisome as the outcome was for Pittsburgh, it is equally as promising for Cincinnati (as long as we note that the Steelers probably aren’t that worried). A 2-1 record through the first three games is as good as anyone would have hoped, and the head-to-head win over a division rival could be big. The Bengals’ second-half schedule is really weak, and if they get to their bye week at 4-3 or 5-2 they’ll be legitimate contenders. But playing like they did Sunday won’t hold up during two games against Baltimore and a rematch in Pittsburgh and will continue to leave the door open for Week 1 Bungle shenanigans.
Sunday’s win was sweet because Pittsburgh is a bunch of assholes and we never get to tell them that. But the Bengals have a lot of work to do before we can laugh at the Steelers without thinking they’re going to kick the shit out of us for it later.
Image: Hines Ward still smiling