Previously a league-best, undefeated 11-0, the Steelers have lost their last three games, including on Monday, going down 27-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals and its third-string quarterback Ryan Finley.
Having played with an offense that has looked dysfunctional in their previous two defeats, it was more of the same in the first half for Pittsburgh, as they turned the ball over three times to allow the previously two-win Bengals to race to a 17-0 half-time lead.
Indeed, tensions between the two division rivals were ramped up in the pre-game warm-ups. Videos of wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster dancing on the Bengals logo before the game seemed to fire up the Cincinnati defence. And, in the first quarter, safety Vonn Bell produced a heavy hit to force a fumble from Smith-Schuster and reclaim possession.
Although the Pittsburgh offense performed better in the second half, they couldn’t overturn their first half deficit, inflicting their third defeat in a row.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin admitted his team are “not a good football group right now.”
“We’re not a good football group right now. We understand the consequences that come with that. We are working on a short week. We have to be better than what we’ve been. That’s just the reality of it.”
In a competitive division, alongside the 10-4 Cleveland Browns — who the Steelers play on January 3 — and the 9-5 Baltimore Ravens, the final playoff seedings look to be heading to the wire, with just two weeks of games remaining.