Kovacevic: Redemption, one player at a time
CINCINNATI — Ike Taylor got at least one thing right in his rant against us Pittsburgh sporting media types a few days ago.
“Why does one individual have to be pointed out?” Ike was coolly complaining over some smooth jazz on his weekly TribLive Radio show. “It's not just about me. That's what I'm sayin'. It's about the team.”
No doubt. Takes all 53.
But you know, there's a reason football has one-on-one battles on the line. And yeah, man-to-man coverage.
At some point, the one among those 53 has to do his part. There has to be individual accountability.
The sooner that these Steelers — and that's almost all of their 53 — begin accepting that, the sooner they're looking squarely at the face in the mirror, the sooner they stop blaming everyone from fans to officials to reporters, the sooner they'll have a chance to legitimately address all that's kept this team looking so sluggish, so sloppy for so long now.
Maybe, just maybe, that started with baby steps Sunday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Steelers 24, Bengals 17.
Yeah, that's just 3-3. It's still lousy, still the most powerful sign that this is no contender.
But let's also appreciate it for what it was …
“Awesome,” Ben Roethlisberger called it. “I'm proud of a lot of the guys in there.”
“Man, that felt great,” defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “After the way we started, with what we were facing, that's nice.”
There was much more of that in the buoyant visitors' room, as there should have been. They won a game they had to. They won on the road. And they did it on a day all of their AFC North rivals went down.
But I'll say it again: This was much more about individuals.
How about Willie Colon and Ramon Foster, the beleaguered guards, coming up with their best showings by at least as big a gap as the one they created for Chris Rainey to squirt through for that late touchdown?
Colon, in particular, was a mammoth among men.
Count him among those looking in the mirror.
“Mostly it was about each of us doing a little better,” he said. “I feel like, as a team, we were all waiting for the guy next to us to do something big. I felt like I had to do something to contribute, like I had a debt to the team. I still feel like that.”
Hood, glaringly tackle-free in the last game, was targeted brutally on Cincinnati's opening touchdown drive. The Bengals pounded away to the right side, all eight of BenJarvus Green-Ellis' carries and all 44 of his yards running through No. 96.
But Hood bounced back with a monster second half.
“We changed some schemes,” Hood said, “but it all still boils down to making plays.”
There were more of those.
Mike Wallace had three terribly untimely drops in the first half, one of which would have been a touchdown. But he wound up with a game-high eight catches, including a sliding first-down special on the closing clock-killer drive.
Jonathan Dwyer, essentially banished by Mike Tomlin for a fumble in Oakland, was forced into feature-back duty by injury and unearthed 122 yards.
LaMarr Woodley, either silent or absent most of this season, picked off Andy Dalton and pressured him hard.
Keenan Lewis, with his finest performance in the NFL, leaped to tip away a ball that might have found A.J. Green for six against Taylor. The reason a corner was oddly helping another corner: Lewis reacted to a route he'd seen Green run on tape and moved over.
“Spotted it right away,” Lewis said. “Just went back to help.”
Well, he did give up a Green touchdown on a quick slant, but that was a bullet. Otherwise, Green, the NFL's top yardage receiver, came up empty.
Don't think for a second Taylor wouldn't gab it up after that.
“I've got nothing but respect for that kid, what he does week in and week out. He's a Pro Bowler,” Taylor said. “I still tip my hat to him.”
I asked if he might have been more aggressive, based on the way he jumped a Green route — diving forward and poking with the left hand — late in the game.
“It's a mindset. It's about not being scared to make plays. Yeah, it hurts when we lose, when I let my teammates down. But at the end of the day, I'm playing for the Steelers. I'm playing for my teammates.”
Hey, it's his show. The man gets the last word.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.