The Steelers escaped Cincinnati with a 23-20 overtime win during Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season.
That’s where the positivity ends.
Fact is, the Steelers offense inspired exactly no confidence moving forward.
The Steelers become the 1st team with 4+ INT, 5+ Turnovers, 7+ Sacks, & a pick-six in the same game since the Falcons in 2002 (Week 12).
The Steelers haven’t done this ever before in franchise history & this hasn’t been done in Week 1 since 1967 (Lions) pic.twitter.com/qLW9blSjQp
— Greg Harvey (@BetweenTheNums) September 11, 2022
Only when your defense does that, you shouldn’t need a miraculous blocked extra point to survive.
BLOCKED. WHAT A GAME.@minkfitz_21 said NOPE!
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
“Obviously, you’re like, ‘Damn. We’re going to lose the game,'” Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth said after the game. “But Minkah [Fitzpatrick] made a hell of a play. And yeah, it was crazy emotional.”
You shouldn’t need the opposing kicker –– working with a backup long snapper –– to botch a chip shot in overtime.
NO GOOD. This game is bananas.
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
With any competent offense, such a defensive performance warrants a runaway.
For fun, let’s check in on that 2002 contest where the Falcons put up a similarly dominant defensive performance.
Atlanta won that game against the Panthers by a score of *produces TI-84 to help crunch giant numbers* 41-0.
Forty-one to zero.
The Falcons snagged a 14-0 lead after one quarter and cruised from there. And yet, there the Steelers sat, locked in a game neither team wanted to win after 69-plus minutes of play.
It didn’t need to be that way –– not with any semblance of offense. The Steelers tallied just 13 first downs to the Bengals’ 32.
They possessed the ball for 26:17 of a 70-minute game. Pull out the graphing calculator again and do the math. It’s damning for this Steelers offense moving forward.
“When you lose the turnover battle five to nothing, I don’t expect to win many games,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said in Cincinnati after the game. “We almost did. So you’ve got to find the silver lining there.”
Taylor knows there was no reason for that game to be close. There was less reason for the Steelers to need two miracles to get it done.
For all the analysis and coverage of the Steelers’ quarterback “controversy” this offseason, it’s almost hilarious to watch Week 1 play out the way it did.
The Steelers could’ve thrown prime Ben Roethlisberger under center. Or Tom Brady. Or Devlin Hodges. Or even Mason Rudolph.
The result would’ve been the same.
This win sits squarely with the Steelers’ defense. The offense barely played a part.
Mitch Trubisky gets it.
“The defense absolutely balled today with those turnovers,” Trubisky said after the game. “We just have to go back to the drawing board and do our part.”
“They gave us way too many opportunities,” Steelers offensive tackle Dan Moore, Jr. added after the game. “We got to clean up a lot of things on offense. But hats off to the defense. They definitely kept us in this game today.”
We saw this exact scenario play out back in 2019, when Roethlisberger went down early in the season with an elbow injury, replaced by Rudolph and Hodges. That season, the Steelers led the league in takeaways –– 38 –– as well as sacks, with 54.
Behind a putrid offense, though –– 29th in rushing, 31st in passing –– the team stumbled to a postseason-less 8-8 finish. The details changed a bit for 2020 and 2021, but the sentiment remained the same. The Steelers’ defense performed at an elite, game-changing level.
And the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
“We need to be better on third downs, getting the run game going a bit more,” Trubisky said. “We have to connect more with receivers on deep to intermediate routes. We’ll go back to the film and look at it, specifically third downs. We also have to turn turnovers into touchdowns and not settle for [field goals]. There’s a lot to get better on and correct but it always feels better to do that after a win.”
Eerie as the similarities to these recent seasons may seem, you gotta hand it to the Steelers players and coaches here. They don’t see things quite the same. Or, at least, they’re focusing on the silver lining rather than zeroing in on the panic button.
“It was a confidence builder,” Freiermuth said of the Steelers’ game-winning drive in overtime. “Obviously, we came in there with 56 seconds, drove down the field to get Boz a winning field goal. A lot of confidence, a lot of things to build on.”
“We battled, we stuck together,” Trubisky added. “We have a lot to clean up, but we found a way in the end. Winning is fun.”
Wide receiver Chase Claypool had yet another viewpoint on it all.
“Yeah, I think that just shows how good of a team the Bengals are,” Claypool said. “The fact that they kept that one close after all those turnovers, I mean hats off to the Bengals, because that game should’ve been a blowout, but they kept it close and made it really hard for us to win.”
Anything to add, Mr. Moore?
“Man, it was ugly, but, look… any time you can win, especially on the road against an opponent like that, man, you can’t have no other emotion but to be happy,” Moore finished.
So, sure. The Steelers won –– and winning is all that matters in the NFL.
But with an offense like this, the very idea of winning screeches to a halt some time in December or January, guaranteed.
After Week 1, I got a feeling, alright.