Steelers vs. Bengals: Pittsburgh Faces Crucial Turning Point in Week 7 Matchup

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Steelers vs. Bengals: Pittsburgh Faces Crucial Turning Point in Week 7 Matchup
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Antonio Brown and the Steelers will try to point their season in a different direction Sunday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers take their 2-3 record to Cincinnati this weekend to face the Bengals on Sunday Night Football.

Many are concerned that the Steelers' 2012 season is turning into 2009 all over again.

That 2009 campaign, remembered mostly for the five-game losing streak that torpedoed the Steelers' season, is seared into the memory of anyone who's waved a Terrible Towel.

The Steelers lost to supposedly inferior opponents. They blew fourth-quarter leads.They dropped interceptions that could have sealed wins in games they eventually lost.

Sound familiar?

 

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No one can blame Steelers fans this season for fearing a 2009 redux, especially with the common theme of a Troy Polamalu injury. However, it could be worse.

How much worse?

Try 2006.

At least the 2009 Steelers started the season 6-2. The Steelers started 6-2 every year from 2007 through 2011. That means, at 2-3, the Steelers are off to their worst start since 2006.

It's only Week 7, of course. No one really knows what direction the Steelers will go in 2012. However, the Steelers can accomplish one thing with a win over the Bengals Sunday night.

They can improve to 3-3 and stop following the trajectory of the 2006 Steelers.

Comparing 2006 and 2009 might be like comparing the Titanic and the Hindenburg, but there are differences.

At least in 2009, the Steelers finished with a winning record (9-7) and remained in playoff contention into the final week of the season.

The 2006 Steelers were knocked out of the playoff race in the second-to-last week of the season. After starting 2-6, the Steelers rallied to finish 8-8 that year, but it wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs.

The 2009 Steelers could have made the playoffs by hanging on to just one more pass, either from their own quarterback or an opposing quarterback.

The 2006 Steelers didn't come nearly that close, and this year's team is playing with a carelessness similar to the 2006 edition.

In Week 3 of the 2006 season, the Steelers lost at home, 28-20, to the Bengals to fall to 1-2. The Bengals took the lead in the fourth quarter with a touchdown immediately after the Steelers muffed a punt deep in their own territory. Then the Bengals added to the lead with a touchdown after a Steelers fumble.

That ugly loss dropped the 2006 Steelers to 1-2 and they had two weeks to stew about it with their Week 4 bye.

Replace "2006" with "2012" in the previous sentence and it's still true.

 

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Steelers hit rock bottom in 2006 when they fumbled six times, losing three of them, in a 31-20 loss to the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.

One of those fumbles came when Hines Ward caught a pass at the Broncos' 1-yard line with two minutes to go. Instead of scoring a touchdown, cutting the Broncos' lead to four and setting up an onside kick, Ward fumbled. Denver recovered, closed out the game and the Steelers fell to 2-6.

A lot more has to go wrong this season for the Steelers to slide to 2-6, but the 2006 parallels are there with the special teams gaffe in Tennessee and the two fumbles in Oakland.

It might seem quite useless to look at the past as a guide to predict what might happen this season. Over the last decade or so, however, the Steelers have followed a pattern that has made for an interesting study.

 

Which team do the 2012 Steelers more closely resemble?

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There have been the five consecutive 6-2 starts in Mike Tomlin's first five years as coach. There have been the missed playoff seasons every third year since the turn of the century.

No one will remember that the Steelers failed to start 6-2 if they can buck the latter trend and make the playoffs for the third straight year.

If they beat the Bengals Sunday night, it would be a step in the right direction.

If they lose, the prospects of 2009 all over again would go from a fear to a hope, because the Steelers would have a long way to go to get to within one dropped ball from the playoffs.

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