|In a divisional home game, Cincinnati lets third-stringer Jonathan Dwyer rush for 122 yards. (Getty Images)|
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis was talking to his team in a calm, measured tone. Every now and then, the door to the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room popped open and Lewis' voice spilled into the hallway outside. How did he sound? He sounded bored.
The Bengals had just lost 24-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, blowing a double-digit lead at home to an aging, aching division opponent. The Steelers won this game because they wanted it.
The Bengals lost because they didn't.
A week earlier, Lewis had made the most astute comment of his bland public-speaking career, deciding after the Bengals' loss last week at hapless Cleveland that "We're almost too nice. We need more of a killer instinct. We need to play nasty."
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|2012 NFL Week 7|
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Well, good news: Sunday night was in that ballpark. You know how nasty can mean "revolting" or "unpleasant" or "ghastly"? The Bengals were nasty. After taking a 14-3 lead, they stuck a stamp on this game, this exclusive Sunday night platform on national television, and mailed it in.
Pittsburgh scored 21 of the last 24 points. It was the Steelers who were running reverses and double reverses and flanker passes. It was the Steelers who were blitzing and hitting and pooch-punting. It was the Steelers who were down two starting offensive linemen and were still ripping open holes in the Cincinnati defense. It was the Steelers who were down their top two running backs, too, and got 122 yards from third-stringer Jonathan Dwyer.
It was the Bengals who looked bored, a reflection of their dispassionate coach who was droning on and on to his team afterward like a college professor droning on about botany -- although what Marvin Lewis could possibly lecture his team on, I have no idea.
How to give away two timeouts in the second half of a game that was clearly going down to the final minutes? Lewis made it look easy Sunday night, challenging two catches by the Steelers, losing both challenges and the timeouts that went with it. That's why there was no drama in the final minutes, with the Steelers easily running out the clock against a Cincinnati team with no timeouts left. With two minutes left in a seven-point game, Paul Brown Stadium was almost empty. These are Bengals fans, remember. They've seen this game before. They know how it ends.
Marvin Lewis? He doesn't seem to know a whole lot -- or if he does, he's keeping that knowledge to himself. And that's me being as charitable as I can. Here, judge for yourself: Lewis was asked after the game why A.J. Green, who entered the weekend leading the NFL in receiving yards, was targeted only three times in the first 3½ quarters and managed one catch for eight yards on the game.
Said Lewis: "I can't sit here and tell you what was happening."
Lewis was asked why No. 2 receiver Andrew Hawkins caught only two passes for 17 yards. Why talented tight end Jermaine Gresham had three catches for 19 yards against a Steelers defense missing safety Troy Polamalu.
Lewis knew how to answer that one.
"We'll have to wait," Lewis said, "and see the tape."
This was a great victory for the Steelers because it was a terrible loss for the Bengals. Pittsburgh had no business winning this game, not with several of its most important players -- Polamalu, center Maurkice Pouncey, tackle Marcus Gilbert, starting running Rashard Mendenhall and his backup, Isaac Redman -- injured and inactive. The first 20 minutes went as they should have, with the Bengals jumping out to a 14-3 lead.
And then the malaise set in.
The Bengals looked bored. On their next possession after taking that 14-3 lead, Gresham caught a short pass on second-and-2, turned upfield and saw linebacker Larry Foote between him and a first down. Foote is an undersized linebacker at 6-1, 239 pounds. Gresham is an oversized tight end at 6-5, 260. Needing two yards for a first down, Gresham lowered his head -- not like a bull, but like a chastened child -- and went down short of the marker.
It's a small thing, but that's all the Bengals had to offer Sunday night: small things. Things like Lewis in the locker room, grandfatherly going over things with his team. Things like linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the locker room a few minutes later, with the media now allowed inside, exploding in inappropriate laughter. He tried to get fellow linebacker Vincent Rey to join along, but Rey was having none of it. Rey looked at the media, looked at Burfict, and shook his head.
Small stuff. That's all the Bengals are: small stuff. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Andy Dalton, one of the best receivers of any age in A.J. Green, a secondary full of former first-round picks, a stable of pass-rushing defensive linemen ... and they're lousy. They're a 3-4 football team that couldn't beat the Steelers at their weakest, their lowest, their most vulnerable.
Pittsburgh dropped an easy interception (by Foote), dropped an easy touchdown pass (by running back Baron Batch), and dropped several other passes (four by Mike Wallace, who had an inexplicably bad day). The Bengals won't get another chance like this against a team that has owned them here, there, and everywhere. The Steelers have visited Paul Brown Stadium 14 times and won 12 of them. Coach Mike Tomlin has faced the Bengals 11 times, home or away, and won nine of them.
This was the Bengals' chance to close the gap, but they couldn't do it. They looked bored. The gap between them and the Steelers yawns ever wider.