John Steigerwald: Steelers barely beat a really bad Bengals team
Tank you very much.
That’s what Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should have said to Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor during the postgame handshake Sunday in Cincinnati.
A team doing its best to lock up the first pick in the 2020 draft couldn’t have come at a better time for the Steelers. They were coming off a disastrous loss and desperately needed a win to stay alive for a wild-card spot.
If the Bengals were serious about winning the game, Ryan Finley would have been yanked before halftime. How much of him did you need to see to know that they weren’t keeping him in the lineup because they think he’s their quarterback of the future?
The beat-up Steelers came to town with an offense populated by three wide receivers who were on practice squads this season and a quarterback who seems to get worse with every game he plays.
Andy Dalton may not end up in the Hall of Fame, but he’s a better-than-average NFL quarterback who would have given the Bengals a chance to win their first game.
The Bengals obviously weren’t all that interested in winning a game yet. They’ll be picking their quarterback of the future next April.
That was a really bad team the Steelers beat in Cincinnati, and they barely beat them.
Now Steelers fans and media can focus on the immediate future, and the immediate future begins with a quarterback controversy.
It’s not fair to judge Mason Rudolph’s longterm future based on a game he had to play with practice-squad weapons, but he was bad enough Tomlin had no choice but to yank him.
And what does Devlin Hodges do? He immediately throws a 79-yard touchdown pass to James Washington that had 90% of the viewers in Western Pennsylvania declaring him the starter until further notice.
Many of them may not have noticed that Washington was wide open and delivered one of the best stiff-arms in Steelers history to Bengals cornerback B.W. Webb and turned a nice gain into a long touchdown.
Other than that splash play, Hodges was 4 of 10 for 39 yards, which wasn’t much better than Rudolph.
After the game, Tomlin sounded like a guy ready to start his starter again next week against the Browns: “You want to make more out of Duck’s contribution than need be, so be it. It comes with the position. They get too much credit at times, and they get too much blame at times. They all understand the nature of that.”
They may understand it, but who doesn’t like a good quarterback controversy?
Other than quarterbacks, of course, and maybe coaches.
But this isn’t Neil O’Donnell replacing Bubby Brister or Tommy Maddox replacing Kordell Stewart.
The Steelers quarterback of the immediate future is Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph and Hodges might be in a battle for his backup, but neither has done anything to establish himself as the quarterback of the future.
They combined to go 13-27 for 203 yards with one touchdown and one interception against a defense that ranked at the bottom of the league in every important category.
They deserve a lot of slack because of the supporting cast they had, but sometimes a quarterback in that situation can rise above it to show he has something special.
The competition gets much tougher next week. The Browns bring a much better defense to town and a quarterback who was a first overall pick and is beginning to play like one.
Baker Mayfield has thrown eight touchdown passes and one interception in his last four games, and the Browns have won three in a row.
So, who should start at quarterback for the Steelers?
With a very short leash.
Oh, by the way, Happy Tanksgiving.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.