An incredibly hot start to the beginning of Sunday’s Bengals vs Steelers action put Cincinnati in a position to win, but the team simply could not get the job done against Pittsburgh, falling just short in a 24-20 loss. Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Ravens’ victory over the Eagles eliminated Cincinnati from playoff contention.
However, a win today would’ve been huge for a team that desperately needed a win against its division rival. The solace for the loss is that the Bengals’ loss puts the team in a better position for a good draft pick. The other side of the coin, however, is that the Bengals are now a 5-8-1 team with very evident issues
One of the most exciting first halves in recent memory propelled the Bengals to a 20-9 halftime lead against their division rival Steelers, who have had Cincy’s number in years past. Randy Bullock and Chris Boswell were very active, kicking a combined five field goals in the first 30 minutes alone. But it was two Bengals touchdowns that gave Cincinnati an 11-point halftime lead.
Brandon LaFell was remarkable throughout the first half, tallying 77 yards on six catches in addition to a drawing 39-yard pass interference penalty after burning rookie corner Artie Burns.
After LaFell set his team up to score, the Bengals made three failed scoring attempts from the one-yard-line, eventually challenging the third Jeremy Hill carry. When the ruling on the field — which was not a touchdown — was confirmed, Andy Dalton snuck in a one-yard score.
Hill was able to punch in a score himself later, scoring a touchdown on a four-yard run. The running back, presumably excited after scoring on the Steelers for the first time since his playoff fumble, pretended to tear up a Terrible Towel, spiking it after he gave his team six points.
Cincinnati’s defense was spectacular as well in the first half. Antonio Brown appeared to score a touchdown, but an illegal Le’Veon Bell chop block on Carlos Dunlap negated the score, and the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown for the entire first half.
Even special teams were clicking for Cincinnati, as Alex Erickson gained 120 yards on three first half kickoff returns, including a 72-yarder that nearly went for six points. At the half, the Bengals held a 20-9 lead after limiting Brown and Bell to 108 total yards.
An early second-half scuffle was predictable, as the Bengals’ lead over Pittsburgh seemed to get under the skin of a few offensive linemen. After one Bell run, tackle Marcus Gilbert, unprovoked, shoved Burfict into the ground. Burfict was quickly pounced on by guard David DeCastro, trying to defend himself by shoving the lineman’s facemask away. Nonetheless, Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, the commentators, did their best to try and frame the play as Burfict’s fault. It was not.
A few plays later, the linebacker — thinking Ben Roethlisberger had the ball — brought the quarterback to the ground. The commentators quickly started to blame Burfict, even re-visiting the three occurrences in which Steelers players were injured on plays he made last year, before finally realizing Burfict just thought Roethlisberger faked the handoff.
Four straight unanswered scores — three field goals and a touchdown (with a failed two-point conversion) — gave the Steelers a 24-20 lead in the second half, with the Bengals punting twice and throwing an interception.
Some of the blame for the Bengals’ early second half struggles should fall on the defense — Cincinnati was penalized on four straight defensive plays and the defense allowed 18 straight points. But most of the blame, like with the Bengals in the Bills loss, should fall on the offense. Ken Zampese, Dalton and the rest of the offense have had some obvious issues with unscripted plays, as the team’s offensive production has taken a dip in most games this season.
Pittsburgh eventually kneed its way to a 24-20 victory in Cincinnati, extending its winning streak against the Bengals to four. The Bengals have beaten the Steelers just once in the past eight matchups and the Steelers have completely dominated the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, with the Bengals just winning three times at home against the Steelers since the stadium was built.
The Bengals will once again have revenge on their mind next season.