It wasn’t pretty. In fact, Pittsburgh was about one throw away from sustaining a loss that would have made last year’s Raiders, Browns and Bengals’ losses seem easy to take.
But when James Harrison’s hopefully unfineable hit separated Jordan Shipley from the ball on fourth and five, Pittsburgh finally got a chance to celebrate a 27-21 win that was once a 20-point Steeler lead.
It’s hard to keep saying that survival is enough, but this did feel like another game where getting the win is all that really mattered. Pittsburgh played the majority of the game without starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu (who played 16 snaps) and left tackle Max Starks (27 snaps) and even missed center Maurkice Pouncey (who missed 11 snaps) for a while. They also were without starting defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel (who left early in the game with a hamstring injury).
Injuries aren’t an excuse for a defense that allowed too many big plays in the second half — mainly because they couldn’t cover Terrell Owens. And once again, we saw a team start to move the ball once they gave up on running the ball (Cincinnati had three runs in their final six possessions).
But Pittsburgh did figure out a way to survive. There were as many lowlights as highlights in some ways, but there were some things to be happy about.
Antwaan Randle El threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace in what proved to be a much needed trick play. Speaking of Wallace, he continued to dominate the pairing of Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph — Wallace has three 100-yard receiving games in his career, two of them have come against Cinncinnati.
Rashard Mendenhall ran the ball seven consecutive plays to churn time off the clock in the fourth quarter and in the process pulled several Houdini acts to dodge defenders in the backfield.
Forced to shuffle backups to different positions (Jonathan Scott played guard at one point), the Steelers offensive line struggled to get any continuity.
Doug Legursky (in for the injured Kemoeatu) missed a block on safety Reggie Nelson on a third and six run that turned what would have been a first down into a one-yard gain. (Less important unless you have him on your fantasy team: Legursky’s missed block ensured Mendenhall finished with 99 yards rushing).
Jeff Reed made a 53-yard field goal, but once again he missed a key field goal late — this one a 46-yarder that would have iced the game. As ESPN noted, Reed has the worst field goal percentage of any kicker in the NFL with five or more attempts this year.
And William Gay was beaten multiple times by Terrell Owens and Jordan Shipley. Getting beaten by one of the NFL’s all-time great receivers isn’t that surprising when he gets matched up against a nickel back, but it was a concern.
But most importantly, the Steelers won. It wasn’t their best game of the season, but Pittsburgh’s losses have been to the defending Super Bowl champs and a fellow 6-2 team. As we saw with the Patriots this weekend, it’s not always easy to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.