PITTSBURGH – It could simply be false hope that was generated by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 27-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night at Heinz Field.
After all, the victory merely took Pittsburgh from the pool of the NFL’s winless teams and left them with a 1-3 mark, good enough to be a game back of the AFC North-leading Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
What’s that you say? The Ravens are coming to Pittsburgh on Sunday?
There will be the true litmus test for the Steelers, who on Monday looked like the team many expected them to be all season long.
What’s potentially new and exciting is the fact that Pittsburgh suffocated an overwhelmed opponent and left very little opportunity for it to contend.
Credit a defense that took advantage of a Bengals offense missing is greatest weapon – A.J. Green – and never gave a whole lot to those wearing the tiger-striped helmets.
It’s been a long time coming for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh put eight sacks on Andy Dalton while also registering 12 hits on him. When Pittsburgh couldn’t get pressure on Dalton, it only allowed him to pass for 171 yards – 69 of those yards were peeled back on the eight sacks, anyway.
Heck, Cincinnati’s closest snap to the goal line was from the Pittsburgh 10 – only after a Diontae Johnson fumble was recovered by the Bengals at the Steelers’ 15.
Cincinnati got the ball inside the Steelers’ 20 on two other occasions, but turnovers quashed those threats – one critical and the other that served as icing on the cake.
The elements of a performance like Monday’s had been there in previous weeks.
Just not in the second half in losses to the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. Both were winnable games. Both weren’t won, despite lights-out efforts in the first half of both games.
On Monday, there were no such issues.
Carrying a lead into the second half for the third straight week, Pittsburgh managed to play complementary football for 60 minutes. When the offense scored, the defense got a stop. When the defense got a stop, the offense made it matter.
It’s how a team is able to score 27 unanswered points and grab its first win of the season.
Toward the end, Pittsburgh was able to tee off on Dalton with Cincinnati in pass-only mode, having pretty much neutralized the Bengals’ running game up to that point.
It shouldn’t be as easy on Sunday when Baltimore visits. It shouldn’t have been as easy on Monday night against a Bengals offense that had totaled 429 yards against Seattle, 316 in a blowout loss to San Francisco and 306 at Buffalo.
A similar performance against a Ravens offense averaging 482.5 yards per game might get some people believing in the defense.
Then again, Monday’s win could have just added air to a balloon that will eventually get popped by the Ravens on Sunday or by the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 13.
For now, there’s still a balloon.