They started fast, finished strong and got critical contributions from all three phases along the way.
“For sure,” he said. “It doesn’t matter in my opinion or in my mind-set whether we’re both playing for the first seed of the playoffs or whether we’re not.”
Other Steelers echoed Polamalu’s sentiments.
NO BIG PLAYS
Big plays against have been a problem for the Steelers all season, but the longest rush the Bengals managed was 9 yards and their two longest completions went for 19 yards each.
For a team that had allowed 11 plays of longer than 50 yards, that’s progress.
“We really focused on the big play,” Clark said. “When you have guys like (wide receiver) A.J. Green, (running back) Giovani Bernard, that’s the way they get the ball down the field. They get big chunks and then they get into the end zone, so stopping that was huge for us.
Polamalu had previously been playing a great deal of what amounted to a linebacker position in six-defensive backs packages. Not on Sunday night.
“Yeah, my shoulders are pretty fresh,” he said. “We gave them different looks. (Linebacker) Terrence (Garvin) came in and played well in the nickel package but our team played well. The way our offense played really took them out of their game plan early. Getting a special-teams touchdown is huge, as well.”
“They were definitely out there barking,” Bell reported. “The first play when I got the bubble-screen, No. 55 (Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict), he was like, ‘I’m going to be here all day, all day.’ No. 55, he was trash-talking a lot but that’s what makes the game fun. That’s what really gets me going, when guys are trash-talking and I’m trash-talking back.
“I love it.”
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
The Steelers-Bengals Heinz Field rematch featured the first of what might turn out to be several seasons of head-to-head meetings between the first two running backs selected in the 2013 draft: Cincinnati’s Bernard (37th overall) and Pittsburgh’s Bell (48th overall).
Bell (foot) missed the first game between the teams on Sept. 16 in Cincinnati.
Last Sunday night, Bell touched the ball 12 times on the Steelers’ first 16 offensive snaps on the way to a 107-yard night (57 yards rushing on a career-high 24 carries, 50 yards receiving).
Bernard had 33 yards rushing and 13 receiving.
They both had 1-yard touchdown runs.
COMPARISON, PART II
Green wound up with more catches (9-5) and more receiving yards (93-66) but Brown also scored a pair of touchdowns (on a 12-yard catch and a 67-yard punt return).
STATS DON’T LIE, OR DO THEY?
Through three quarters the Steelers were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions, 2-for-4 in converting red zone opportunities into TDs and were no better than even in takeaway/giveaway (each team had turned it over once at that juncture).
Through three quarters the Steelers led, 30-7.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Beating the Bengals as they did had Steelers wide receiver
“You always want to be in playoff contention every year no matter what,” he said. “I’ve said several times it’s going to suck being at home in the month of January watching guys continue to play football in search of the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what we play for, that’s what we work hard for. Hopefully, it’ll come next year.
“I really don’t feel like it was a statement because, I’ve said it again, we have athleticism. We have a good team, a good nucleus of guys in this locker room. The season has boiled down to us not putting it together in all three phases. (Sunday night) we showed that if we put it together in all three phases what can happen.”