The Pittsburgh Steelers’ December swoon is looking more like a collapse.
The Steelers lost their third straight – getting thumped 27-17 by the last-place Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night – after ripping off 11 straight wins to start the season. They couldn’t generate any offense early, and the opportunistic Bengals took advantage of their mistakes.
Assured of a playoff berth, the Steelers (11-3) could have wrapped up the AFC North with a win but instead turned the ball over three times and allowed Cincinnati to build a 17-0 halftime lead.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not a good football team right now.”
Three weeks ago, the Steelers were on track for the top overall seed in the AFC, but now they could end up a wild card. Pittsburgh has tough matchups remaining against Indianapolis (10-4) and division rival Cleveland (10-4).
Pittsburgh averaged 29.8 points during its first 10 games and Ben Roethlisberger, back from an elbow injury that cost him most of 2019, looked like an MVP candidate. But the Steelers struggled to an uninspired 19-14 win over a COVID-19-decimated Baltimore Ravens team on Dec. 2 and haven’t topped 20 points in a game since.
“High frustration,” said Roethlisberger, who had 19 passing yards in the first half and was picked off by Mackensie Alexander, setting up a touchdown. He finished 20 for 38 for 170 yards.
Cincinnati (3-10-1) snapped a streak of 11 straight losses to Pittsburgh in most unlikely fashion, with Ryan Finley at quarterback. The second-year player, starting in place of injured No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow, completed seven passes for 89 yards, but his touchdown run early in the fourth quarter all but sealed it for the Bengals.
The injury-plagued Bengals had lost five straight, averaging 10 points per game and rarely looking competitive, since Burrow led them to a 31-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans on 1 November.
“We gave everybody a game ball today,” said coach Zac Taylor, now 5-24-1 in his two seasons. “Everyone deserves to cherish this night. We needed a big divisional win against a team we’ve struggled against. It was fun to see the players celebrate and have fun.”