The Bengals have lost games in the fourth quarter this year, but on Sunday they lost their composure and that's what had head coach Marvin Lewis upset after the 38-10 loss to the Steelers.
While the offense set back Xs and Os to before the invention of the forward pass in the first half, the defense kept them alive. The Bengals took a shot in the form of Hines Ward's blow that broke No. 1 pick Keith Rivers' jaw and responded by shutting down the Steelers on five straight third downs.
But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the brutal play on third and long, missed tackles, and the failure to respond to adversity doomed them again.
Two stats for bad?
Running back Mewelde Moore's 120 yards on six yards per pop and four of the Steelers' six third-downs conversions came on seven yards or longer.
Left end Robert Geathers agreed with his coach that the Bengals let up when they should have put the boot on the neck.
"We have to keep our composure and finish the game. As a defense we didn't finish. We let those breakdowns rattle us. There's no way they should have scored that many points at the end of the game," Geathers said.
The Bengals had just swept the momentum by finally answering the Rivers hit with running back Cedric Benson's 15-yard run that jolted the helmet off Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu early in the fourth quarter.
Even though the Steelers ended up punting, the Bengals had Pittsburgh pinned on its 9 trailing only 17-10 with 11:10 left.
But on the first snap they let the Steelers off the hook (just like they did against Cleveland) when Moore rolled through an open gap up the middle for 16 yards.
"It's always one person not doing their job or out of position," Geathers said. "Even when somebody is not in position, somebody has to make a play. That's the sign of a good defense and we didn't do that.
"Even after giving up that run, we have to bow our backs like we have been. We had the momentum and we let up."
Linebacker Brandon Johnson: "We had them backed up, and then they broke that long run. That kind of deflated everything. We never recovered from that. We did have the momentum. We've got to keep it. That's not what we did."
Then two snaps later on third-and-seven, cornerback Johnathan Joseph got caught in between and gave up a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes on the sidelines.
"He was doing everything on five-step drops; just taking it and releasing," said Joseph of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "I saw Holmes sit down out of the (corner of my eye). I was looking in the backfield and I had my eyes in the backfield just a little too long, which enabled him to make the play."
This is what head coach Marvin Lewis was talking about when he said, "Every week you have guys get injured, (and other) guys have to come in and play. You've got to respond to that. You've got to understand what your responsibility is, what's going to happen, how they are going to attack, and how we attack."
Joseph had a miserable fourth quarter. On the next touchdown drive, he had a 38-yard pass interference penalty working against Ward down the field. On the last touchdown, Ward's 16-yarder from backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, another third-and-seven, Joseph tipped the ball at the four-yard line.
"The more and more I think about it, I should have picked those balls off," Joseph said of that throw to Ward and the first down to Holmes. "I didn't make the play. I let my teammates down. Those are plays that I should make."
Not a good day for Bengals first-rounders. Rivers had his jaw broken, Joseph got burned, Carson Palmer's throwing elbow remained on the shelf, Chris Perry got benched, and Levi Jones had to deal with the Steelers' amoeba-headed pass rush.
One snap after Joseph gave up the first down to Holmes, Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Nate Washington on a 50-yard touchdown pass running past cornerback Geoff Pope, just promoted from the practice squad Friday.
But the damage had been done before; even going back to the first play of the second half. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe missed Moore in the open field on the way to a 24-yard run, which brought back memories of his miss on Chris Johnson's 51-yard run at the end of the half against Tennessee. This run also set up a touchdown.
"Cant have it; there's no excuse," Ndukwe said. "I have to make that play."
Which has become the refrain for a team still searching.