I’ll be honest; when I saw the note scroll across the bottom line last week that said “Steelers trade for Dolphins’ Fitzpatrick,” Minkah was not the Fitzpatrick I thought they were talking about. Maybe it should have been as the defense played better against the Niners. Maybe it shouldn’t have been the Fitzpatrick they wanted given that they got barely 50 percent completions from their quarterback.

Granted, Mason Rudolph didn’t look bad in his first career start, but he showed why he was only going to be counted on to take garbage time snaps. Pittsburgh still struggled to get the running game going and, defensively, allowed 24 points to what could be best described as a sloppy 49ers offense.

So here’s the thing… The Steelers didn’t play a terrible game: They protected Rudolph. They forced five turnovers while committing only two. They only had six penalties. In the end, it still wasn’t enough. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to face a fact that we didn’t see at the beginning of the season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t ever going to be that good.

Yes, Ben was back. Yes, James Conner was back. Yes, Vance McDonald was slated for a breakout season. Yes, JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the bright young stars in the league. But they still looked bad with all their toys against the Pats. They came close against the Seahawks and you could able to blame injuries. But at the end of it all, with Conner, McDonald, Smith-Schuster, and a turnover forcing defense, they still came up short by the bay.

Maybe I’m being naïve, but I’m choosing to believe that the Steelers still can be a good team. When you have players at skill positions the likes of which we previously mentioned and an offensive line that can keep its quarterback upright, the potential to win is there. All the above mentioned players are too good and too young to have seen the talent fall off the cliff like it has. The defense showed some tremendous resolve against the Niners and, given some extra seasoning to move into the role, Rudolph should be able to become at least a competent game manager this season.

Steelers Odds to Start Their Season Turnaround Against the Bengals

Unfortunately, the NFL schedule-makers don’t really allow for time to help Pittsburgh in its quest to climb out of the hole. Week five has the Ravens visiting town and Pittsburgh has to travel to the Chargers in week six before finally getting a breather with a bye and the Dolphins at home.

Which is what makes this week’s game so critical. The Steelers get a reeling Bengals team at home on Monday night. Pittsburgh is giving four points in this game and I think that’s a fair line. Despite everything we said above about it not being enough, the Steelers played better against San Francisco. A similar effort against Cincinnati should yield a win that is plenty enough to cover four points, so skip the Steelers moneyline of -186 and concentrate on the Steelers spread of 4.0/4.5. I’d be a bit more leery about the 43.5 over/under. Until either team shows it can consistently score, I’d take the under on that one, or steer clear of O/U all together.

Time is too short to mince words about the Steelers. A win and they have some hope going forward. A loss to the Bengals could very well mean a lost season before September ends.