3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 12 Loss
The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer the class of the AFC North. If that hadn't been made clear throughout the first half of the 2021 season, then Sunday afternoon was the definitive statement.
It was a tough day for the Steelers, who went on the road and fell 41-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. It marks the first time that Cincinnati has swept its regular-season series against Pittsburgh since 2009. The Steelers are also now in last place in the AFC North at 5-5-1.
Pittsburgh couldn't get going Sunday and was down 31-3 by halftime. The Steelers didn't score a touchdown until there were two minutes, 59 seconds to go in the game, and by that point the Bengals had already put 41 points on the board.
Here are three takeaways from Pittsburgh's Week 12 loss.
Roethlisberger Is Holding Back the Offense
Ben Roethlisberger will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Steelers history. He has led the franchise to a pair of Super Bowl championships and enjoyed some tremendous years with the team. But the 2021 version of Roethlisberger is a far cry from the player Pittsburgh fans will choose to remember.
This season, the 39-year-old has been showing his age amid a tough campaign. That continued Sunday in Cincinnati, as he went 24-of-41 for 263 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His lone TD pass was a throw to tight end Pat Freiermuth that came with the game well out of reach late.
Even though the Steelers were getting blown out, Roethlisberger stayed in the game, as the team opted to keep him in the whole way rather than turn to backup Mason Rudolph. And Roethlisberger later explained why he wanted to play it out.
"Games like this show a lot down the stretch of the game," Roethlisberger said, per Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated. "It shows about a person, a team's character, their heart."
However, Roethlisberger's continued struggles suggest that he's nearing the end of his career. And with Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins Jr. unlikely to be Pittsburgh's long-term answers at quarterback, there may not be much the team can do to get its offense back on track until the offseason.
The Run Defense Remains a Huge Weakness
The Steelers couldn't do anything to slow Joe Mixon and the Bengals' rushing attack. Mixon ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and Cincinnati finished with 198 yards and three scores on the ground.
This was nothing new for Pittsburgh's defense.
Over the previous three games, the Steelers had given up 136 rushing yards to the Chicago Bears, 229 to the Detroit Lions and 159 to the Los Angeles Chargers. Mixon had 117 of his rushing yards before halftime Sunday.
"We sucked out there," Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said, per The Athletic's Ed Bouchette.
Linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick returned from injuries, but that still didn't give Pittsburgh's defense the boost it needed. While Cincinnati was most effective on the ground, quarterback Joe Burrow also went 20-of-24 for 190 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Steelers need to play better all around on defense if they are going to have a chance to finish the season strong because their offense isn't playing well enough to win shootouts.
Tomlin on Way to His 1st Losing Season
Since Mike Tomlin became the Steelers' head coach prior to the 2007 season, the team has never had a losing year. Pittsburgh has finished .500 or better in each of the past 14 seasons, a stretch that has also included nine trips to the playoffs.
The Steelers may be 5-5-1 in 2021, but there's a good chance they are going to end up with their first losing season under Tomlin. They still have three games to play against AFC North rivals (two against the Baltimore Ravens and one against the Cleveland Browns), as well as challenging matchups with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.
If Pittsburgh is going to keep Tomlin's streak intact, its players know they need to perform better.
"We can't keep playing like this," Watt said, per Bouchette. "It's absolutely embarrassing."
Although the Steelers remain in the AFC playoff mix, given the way they have been performing, it's going to take a big turnaround for them to stay in the hunt. Anything is possible, but it seems the first losing season of Tomlin's tenure is more likely.