It didn't matter that the Bengals had lost five straight games heading into their November 8, 2010 Monday Night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati was rowdy. The NFL invited Cincy Jungle to participate in Roger Goodell's interaction with Bengals fans. The Steelers were 5-2 heading into this game with the Bengals sporting a 2-5 mark. None of that mattered. It was Monday Night Football, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and we expected nothing but victory.
Opening Kickoff Fumble. Paul Brown Stadium was rocking, fans screaming, twisting around with missile-speed high-fives. Victory was coming. Not a prophesy, but juices with enthusiasm forced us to accept nothing less. Bernard Scott takes the kickoff at the seven-yard line, behind the "10" from the left side of the field, getting the game started. Scott, who sports a 96-yard touchdown return on his resume, avoids the first two tackles, juking and shifting behind the quality blocking by guys like Geno Atkins, Dan Skuta, Brandon Johnson, Reggie Kelly and Quan Cosby. Until Emmanuel Sanders goes for the tackle, punching out the football with his shoulder that was recovered by Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds. Rather than having the game's opening possession, now Pittsburgh would benefit by having the opening possession in both halves.
A bad start, which was largely a theme by the Bengals this year, only echoed by ESPN's Ron Jaworski, who concludes that the "Bengals are beating themselves again."
Pittsburgh Takes The Early Lead. Pittsburgh needs three yards on third down from the Bengals 18-yard line with 13:40 remaining in the first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger sets up in shotgun with Rashard Mendenhall flanked to the quarterback's left. Antwaan Randle El motions when Roethlisberger takes the snap and fakes an end-around, which forces Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers (playing defensive tackle) and Geno Atkins to flow away from the play. Dhani Jones and Brandon Johnson also follow the fake, opening Mendenhall's wheel route out of the backfield that was nearly disrupted by Carlos Dunlap. Yet even he was a step slow. Roethlisberger completes the pass to Mendenhall, who sprints down the right sidelines for a 17-yard gain setting up a one-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Kevin Huber Punt Blocked. Remember offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's reputation? Run, run, pass, punt. During the Bengals first possession of the game, the Bengals go, run, run, run, run, pass and attempted punt. In reality Benson posted 20 yards during his first four runs, giving the Bengals confidence with the flow in their running game.
Eventually the Bengals would have third-and-one from their own 45-yard line with 10:15 left in the first quarter. With Benson averaging five yards during his first four runs, the solution was easy. Hand it off to Benson, let the offensive line maul the Steelers defensive front and pick up the first down. Bob Bratkowski had another idea.
Shotgun with Chad Ochocinco flanked wide right and Jordan Shipley in the slot, Jermaine Gresham lowered in a three-point stance on the left with Terrell Owens outside. After shouting instructions, Palmer takes the snap, looks right and tries to hook up with Chad Ochocinco, finding a hole in the zone five yards beyond the first down. Rather than stepping up and catching the well-thrown pass, Chad sits and waits for the football to reach him. By waiting, it allowed Steelers defensive back Bryant McFadden to hit Ochocinco as the pass reached the receiver, knocking the football free. Incomplete. Punt.
Well, attempted punt that is. Kevin Huber takes the snap, with Williams Gay shooting untouched through the line. The punt was blocked and the Steelers start their second possession on the Bengals 30-yard line. This was about as bad a start by the special teams as you can imagine.
Steelers Take A 10-Point Lead. After Roethlisberger overthrew a first down pass to Hines Ward in the endzone, the quarterback takes the second down snap with 9:55 left in the first quarter. Cincinnati's defense brings eight into the box against Pittsburgh's bunch formation. Mendenhall takes the handoff and runs left. Michael Johnson and Chris Crocker are late coming off their blocks, allowing Mendenhall to run largely untouched until safety Reggie Nelson finally hits the running back out-of-bounds 17 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Thankfully, the Steelers drive stalls. Mendenhall is buried by Pat Sims on first down; literally reversing the running back's momentum into the ground. Roethlisberger throws an incomplete pass off his back foot to Ward running vertical between the numbers and hashmarks. Atkins and Dunlap pressured Roethlisberger on third down, forcing the quarterback to dump the pass underneath. What's great about this? Atkins splits a double-team and the Bengals got pressure on Ben with a three-man rush. One could argue this saved the Bengals four points by forcing the quarterback to make a quick decision.
Jeff Reed converted the 25-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 10-point lead.
Bengals Score Their First Touchdown. Both teams would go on to exchange punts through the first quarter until 10:59 remained in the second. With nine yards to go on second down from their own 37-yard line, Roethlisberger hits Hines Ward on a quick pass to the left. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall shoots through Ward, knocking the football free with his helmet which was recovered by safety Roy Williams. The Bengals offense takes possession at Pittsburgh's 38-yard line.
Palmer fakes to Benson on first down with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, both lined up wide left, heading out into routes (note: Dennis Roland ran a delayed route heading to the right sidelines). Palmer zips a rope to Terrell Owens at the Steelers' 24-yard line for the 14-yard gain. Benson would pick up five yards on the next two plays setting up a third-and-five from the Steelers 19-yard line.
Shouting instructions, predicting where the Steelers blitz will come from, Palmer takes the shotgun snap. Terrell Owens, lined up in the slot on the left, runs down the middle of the field, splitting a defense that concentrated more on the edges. Wide open, Owens hauls in the pass for the touchdown, reducing Cincinnati's deficit to three points.
Palmer Interception Leads To Points For Pittsburgh. After the defense forced the Steelers into a three-and-out, the Bengals eventually setup shop at their own 38-yard with 5:17 left in the first half. Thirteen yards to go on third down predictably suggests that the Bengals will pass the football, what we call obvious passing situations. Ochocinco and Owens line up wide right with Palmer in shotgun. The pass protection is good, with Andrew Whitworth safely pushing James Harrison around the pocket. Nate Livings picks up Gay's blitz with the right side of the line collapsing their guys.
Palmer targets Owens, running an in-route 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. At best, the pass was ill-advised with Lawrence Timmons trailing Owens, jumping the pattern, largely because the pass was behind the receiver.
Two plays after Palmer's interception, the Steelers have third-and-two. Roethlisberger drops back and hits Mike Wallace running a vertical route down the left sidelines for a 40-yard gain. Leon Hall, a single step behind the speedy receiver, strips the football after the completion that unfortunately falls out of bounds. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis lost the challenge and the Steelers eventually setup with a third-and-goal from the Bengals eight-yard line.
Empty backfield with 2:12 left in the first half at the Bengals eight-yard line, Roethlisberger takes the snap, looks over the middle and hits Ward, who is boxing out Brandon Johnson, for the touchdown just beyond the goalline.
Trick Play Gives Pittsburgh A 27-7 Lead. Just before the end of the first half, Mike Nugent missed a 51-yard field goal attempt that allowed Pittsburgh operating room to convert an eventual Jeff Reed conversion giving the Steelers a 20-7 lead. The third quarter was quiet with three punts by Pittsburgh, a missed 45-yard field goal by Nugent along with two Huber punts.
On the very first play of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh lines up at the Bengals 39-yard line on second down. Antwaan Randle El comes into motion from right to left, receives the handoff on the supposed end around. Except Randle El stops, turns around and rolls out to the right. Firmly gripping the football in his right hand, the former college quarterback launches the football towards Mike Wallace five yards to the left of the front right pylon. Wallace boxes out and out-jumps Hall with Nelson late coming over in support for a touchdown.
The Steelers take a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter in a game that increasingly lowered the Bengals chances for a comeback.
Bengals Respond With Their Own Touchdown. Yet, they weren't defeated just yet. Carson Palmer completed three of his next four passes for 29 yards passing, enhanced by a LaMarr Woodley tripping infraction. With 13:20 left in the fourth quarter, Palmer takes the snap and the Bengals pass protection seemed good. Whitworth handled Harrison while Cedric Benson picked up William Gay blitzing on the left. Bobbie Williams and Andre Smith held their own on the right and Nate Livings helped Kyle Cook on Casey Hampton. Unfortunately, Livings failed to see James Farrior blitzing up the middle, who crushes Carson Palmer just after he releases the football.
The pass. Perfect. Terrell Owens streaks down the right sidelines, watching the football float in the air, hauling it in at the back of the endzone towards the back right pylon for the touchdown. Bengals are on the move.
Roy Williams Interception Sets Up Another Bengals Touchdown. With 10:14 left in the game, the Steelers line up at their own 35-yard line on second down. Ben Roethlisberger fakes the handoff and looks to his right, steps up into the pocket and targets Heath Miller, who is running towards the right sidelines. Bengals safety Roy Williams jumps the route for the interception, giving the Bengals the football on Pittsburgh's 36-yard line.
Pittsburgh started losing it. Flozell Adams was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, Hampton flagged for roughing the passer and Ike Taylor flagged for defensive pass interference; 50 yards worth of penalties sets up the Bengals offense at their own one-yard line with 9:21 left in the game.
After getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage, Benson gets the second handoff with the same point of attack behind Bobbie Williams and Domata Peko lead blocking. By lead blocking, we actually mean, de-de-destroying Troy Polamalu.
Bengals score a touchdown and reduces the deficit to six points.
Repercussions. The Steelers would go on to miss a field goal while the Bengals would put together a 12-play drive that reached the Steelers 12-yard line. Fourth-and-five with :40 seconds left in the game, Palmer takes the snap, drops back and tries to squeeze the pass into Jordan Shipley who was double-covered. The pass would fall incomplete, securing Pittsburgh's win.
We're not making things up when we say that the Bengals were often closer to winning games than their record seems to indicate. Even as the Bengals quickly fell behind, they eventually made a comeback that came 12 yards short of an upset.
Ultimately, a loss is a loss and this was Cincinnati's fifth straight loss and sixth of the season. Cincinnati would go on to lose another five before securing their first win almost two months later.