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What is Mike Tomlin doing with his challenges against the Bengals?

One awful challenge early was enough to keep Tomlin from making a good one later.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tomlin’s locked in a brawl with AFC North rival Cincinnati, and the 12th-year head coach isn’t doing his Steelers any favors when it comes to replays. Tomlin’s botched a pair of reviews against the Bengals, challenging one play that clearly wouldn’t end up in his favor and failing to challenge a second that may have taken four points off the board in what was a tie game.

Tomlin’s first mistake came midway through the second quarter. The Steelers faced third-and-8 from their own 12-yard line when Ben Roethlisberger hit wideout Ryan Switzer on a short out route that was marked just shy of the first down marker. Both the first glance at the play and subsequent replays showed cornerback Darqueze Dennard corralling Switzer short of the line to make — but the veteran head coach fired his red flag anyway, leading to a brief review and confirmation that it was fourth down.

The move wasn’t just about challenging the spot, however. The Steelers didn’t have the right personnel on the field for a fourth-and-short punt, and Pittsburgh was likely going to have to burn a timeout anyway rather than suffer a delay of game penalty. Throwing the challenge flag was more of a clock-stopping bailout for his team’s lack of preparation than a real attempt to sway the officials’ decision.

But that mistake would have repercussions in the third quarter. James Conner took a first-and-10 handoff off the right edge deep into Bengals territory before absorbing a hit and flipping onto his back at the goal line:

The play was ruled down at the Cincinnati 1. Tomlin elected to save his second and final challenge rather than burn a review on a play that could have been a Pittsburgh touchdown — though the replay evidence of a plane-breaking dive wasn’t exactly inconclusive.

Tomlin saved his challenge, betting his offense would be able to gain one yard over the course of three plays. They could not. Two unproductive Conner runs and an incomplete pass in Jesse James’ direction forced the Steelers to settle for a chip shot field goal that made the score 17-14 instead of 21-14.

It was a pair of ...interesting challenge decisions that wasn’t especially well-received by Steeler fans.

The Bengals were unable to capitalize on the momentum built by that important goal line stop. Cincinnati went three-and-out after getting the ball back following the Pittsburgh field goal.