After Further Review: So close, yet so far away

After further review …

It turned out to be a traditional Steelers-Bengals confrontation, what we expect and anticipate whenever these two teams get together. Competitive, combative and up for grabs.

And on a November afternoon-turned-evening when the temperature registered at 32 degrees prior to kickoff with a wind chill that made it feel 10 degrees colder, it almost turned into a Steelers classic.


What best exemplified the nature of the struggle that took place at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday occurred after the Bengals had punted the ball back to the Steelers early in the third quarter. When Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt joined his teammates in the defensive gathering on the field during the TV timeout, he was still wearing the long coat. Pratt apparently wasn't taking that off until he absolutely had to if he could get away with it, and he did.

The only thing missing was snow.

And a better finish from the Steelers.

For three-plus quarters, they gave as good as they got on both sides of the ball.

But as they've been painfully reminded too often this season, that's not good enough.

They could have won the Patriots game but didn't. And the Jets game. And the Dolphins game.

Is that, in retrospect, who they really are?

"I can't answer that right now," Cam Heyward maintained. "I gotta look at the tape and really evaluate it.

"Tough game that we didn't finish."

That, at least, is who they've been.

The rematch against Cincinnati betrayed again an inability to make the necessary play or plays when the game was there to be won. And this time it happened on both sides of the ball.

A potentially promising drive that started with a short field and reached the Bengals' 34-yard line but went backwards from there.

And then an eight-play, 93-yard march hemorrhaged on the way to absorbing Cincinnati's dagger, the touchdown that turned a four-point advantage (27-23) into a double-digit lead (34-23) and effectively settled things with 4:30 left in regulation.

That has been the trend all along. Blowouts in Buffalo and Philadelphia are the outliers. The games have been close more often than not, as they typically are across the NFL.

The Steelers found a way to win the critical moments when they had to in Cincinnati and against Tampa Bay

But their failure to do that on a consistent basis has been a frustrating constant.

And if they don't do something about it soon it'll become defining, if it hasn't already.

The question the Steelers will wrestle with the rest of the way is how to get from where they are to where they want to be, individually and collectively.

About all they know in the wake of Bengals 37, Steelers 30 is the answers they seek won't be gleaned by lamenting what might have been.

"You have to learn from each experience whether it's good or whether it's bad, and you have to move forward," T.J. Watt insisted. "We're not where we want to be, clearly, right now. But sitting here and sulking about it isn't going to do anything.

"We have to be real with what we put on tape, we can't take everything personally, we have to digest the film, we have to practice hard and then come out next week with a better performance."

The back-and-forth nature of the Bengals game, the conditions, what was at stake for both teams and their shared history compelled Joe Burrow to characterize Cincinnati's triumph as "one of my favorite wins since I've been here.

"A lot of adversity," Burrow continued. "AFC North game. Bad weather, cold, windy. We fought through. We found a way to win."

The Steelers were close to experiencing the same sort of satisfaction.

But at 3-7 they remain out in the cold.

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