In 1989, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their season-opener 51-0 and followed that up with a 41-10 road loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. On Sunday, the Steelers matched that second score line, equaling the worst loss to Cincinnati in franchise history. Along the way, Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 34 points and 370 yards against quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the Bengals offense.
After the game, Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward lamented the fact that he and his teammates didn’t live up to the standard that has been set by the organization.
“There’s a level of respect and tradition that is set when you put on that Steeler uniform,” Heyward said. “That means getting off blocks and stopping the damn run, and we did not do it today.” Heyward went on to say that if the team continues to play the way it did on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, it “won’t win another damn game” this season.
Steelers Poised to Finish 5-11-1?
Much of the vitriol on Twitter has been directed at Steelers inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr., whose play has been “spotty”—at best—this season.
If you’re a believer in Pro Football Focus (PFF), consider that coming into Sunday’s game, PFF had him ranked 86th of 88 linebackers in terms of run defense, as per Daniel Valente, Football Editor at The Score.
A number of fans and members of the media called out the former first-round pick for specific plays during Sunday’s game, including this draw play to Bengals running back Joe Mixon, in which Bush remained motionless for a remarkably long time following the snap of the ball.
Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that Bush never moved at all on the following extra-point attempt.
At this point, many fans think it’s time for Bush to get benched, released or traded.
One observer asked whether it’s “too late to trade Devin Bush for some leftover thanksgiving turkey?
Many others referenced Devin Bush Sr.’s recent appearance on Pittsburgh sports radio, in which he defended his son’s play.
That led one fan to wryly suggest that Bush Sr.—a former NFL player—needs more than a segment, he needs his own show.
Yet another referenced Bush Sr. preparing for a hypothetical next appearance on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.
Sunday’s performance prompted Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 to reference Chris Hoke’s recent appearance on the station, in which the former Steelers defender said: “Devin Bush is playing with no heart…the Steelers are playing with 10 guys on defense.”
For what it’s worth, Bush was credited with four total tackles (one solo) against the Bengals, this as compared with fellow inside linebacker Joe Schobert, who had 11 tackles (eight solo).
The Steelers traded up to select Bush with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He tore his ACL on October 18, 2020, which may or may not be a contributing factor in terms of his recent struggles.
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Keith Butler, Mike Tomlin Should Be Fired?
Meanwhile, Sunday’s result also led to calls for both of Pittsburgh’s coordinators to be fired, not to mention head coach Mike Tomlin.
Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot took aim at Keith Butler, who has been a Steelers assistant since 2003 and the team’s defensive coordinator since 2015.
Another “lifetime Pittsburgh sports fan” believes that Tomlin needs a “change of scenery.” Never mind the fact that the Steelers signed Tomlin to a contract extension this past April, one that—according to Sportico—makes him one of the highest paid coaches in sports.
An Atlanta Falcons Blog Offers Perspective
But those who cover less successful NFL franchises pushed back against the “Fire Tomlin” narrative, with Falcons Corner referring to Steelers supporters as “an ungrateful spoiled fanbase.”
Nor is it a foregone conclusion that the Steelers will remain down for long. In 1989, Pittsburgh followed up its 41-10 defeat to the Bengals by winning nine of its next 14 games. The Steelers then upended the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card game before suffering a one-point loss to the Denver Broncos—the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative—in the divisional round.
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