Monday, December 14, 2015

Steelers set playoff tone with convincing win in Cincinnati

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer
December 13, 2015
Steelers smother Bengals, 33-20
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 13: Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Cincinnati Bengals pursues DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter of the game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI -- The Steelers' postgame media sessions were as quick as their no-huddle offense. While the Cincinnati Bengals were sorting out issues with a suddenly battered lineup, the Pittsburgh Steelers, fully healthy for the first time all year, gave thoughtful analysis on their 33-20 road win, then wasted little time heading to the team buses. Coach Mike Tomlin was on the podium within minutes of the final play to answer questions. The locker room soon cleared out.
The Steelers are moving with a purpose. They are no longer searching, no longer waiting for a fully stocked roster and no longer avenging an ugly loss to Cincinnati six weeks ago.
Instead, they are checking NFL scores on their phones to envision the playoff picture. Defensive end Cam Heyward already knew the Jets and Chiefs, at 8-5 like the Steelers, had won their games by the time he addressed the media.
The Steelers are keeping pace.
"We’ve got our best awaiting us," Heyward said.
Perhaps two numbers validate that promise: 282 and 0.
That's the passing yardage and touchdown total for Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. The Steelers didn't need an offensive light show to win. The Steelers broke off an 80-yard drive to open the game but otherwise held serve for much of it.
Pittsburgh set the tone in other areas, by making three interceptions on defense and matching the Bengals' tough-guy routine.
The Steelers felt the Bengals' antagonist role bordered on childish, fueling an almost elitist tone after the game -- We're the Steelers, we don't need that.
To be sure, the Bengals crossed the 50-yard line in pregame warm-ups, which is not typical NFL etiquette. A response was required.
This, coupled with the colorful talk of the Nov. 1 matchup between these two, sparked an already edgy team that can carry momentum into the final three games.
"We're not going to let nobody punk us," safety Robert Golden said.
The defense is looking up. The Steelers' D has five turnovers the past two weeks combined, though facing backup quarterbacks against the Colts and Bengals likely played a role in those numbers.
But an upcoming quarterback platter of Denver's Brock Osweiler, Baltimore'sJimmy Clausen and Cleveland's Johnny Manziel won't strike fear in the Steelers, either. December is set up for Pittsburgh to finish well defensively. The Steelers already have nine straight December wins dating back to 2013.
The Steelers talk openly about getting hot at the right time.
Denver's lethal defense will test that plan next Sunday.
"It's that time of year," Roethlisberger said.

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