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NFL Week 7: Bengals fall to Steelers, 29-14, as predictable issues resurface

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The Bengals came out of the gate firing, but quickly fell off the rails during a crucial divisional matchup against the Steelers.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers and Bengals have both had up and down seasons so far, but the winner of the first meeting between the two teams had the ability to take a big step in the right direction in the race for the AFC North crown.

The Steelers came away with a 29-14 Week 7 win over the Bengals in a game that started off close but quickly became all about Pittsburgh. The score was tied often in the first half, but the Steelers never trailed. After the Steelers took at 17-14 lead in the second quarter, they never gave it up.

The beginning of the game was a back and forth fight, but before too long, the Steelers took control of the game thanks to far-too-many penalties on the Bengals’ defense and an inability for the Bengals’ offense to keep up.

William Jackson was one of the bright spots on the team. Darqueze Dennard was assigned to cover Antonio Brown in the absence of Adam Jones, but gave up a touchdown early. After that, Jackson kept Brown to two catches on eight targets for only 26 yards.

The Steelers received the opening kickoff and wasted no time in flexing their muscles. Le’Veon Bell gained 23 yards on his first reception, followed up by a 16-yard catch by Antonio Brown. Bell also added 27 rushing yards on the first drive. Ben Roethlisberger finished off the drive, making it look easy by throwing a 7-yard touchdown to Brown, putting the Steelers up 7-0 after the extra point.

The Bengals never got anything going on defense on that first drive, making it far too easy for the Steelers to cruise into the endzone. The opening drive for the Steelers was a well put together nine plays for 75 yards.

After trading punts, Joe Mixon jump-started the offense with a 25-yard run on his first carry of the game. Why the Bengals used only Jeremy Hill on the first drive is anyone’s best guess. Andy Dalton would go three for his next four passing attempts for 26 yards, and would throw his first touchdown of the game to finish off the drive. Brandon LaFell received the third-and-goal pass from Dalton, and scored his first touchdown of the year. Randy Bullock converted the extra point, and the Bengals were tied with 10 seconds left in the first quarter.

On the next drive, the Steelers made quick work of the Bengals defense once again. Roethlisberger was a perfect three for three for 69 yards, completing to some receivers other than Brown. He connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 31-yard lob as the rookie receiver ran through the busted zone defense. With the extra point, the Steelers had a 14-7 lead with 12:59 left in the second quarter.

Dalton and Mixon would not be outdone. The rookie running back gained 21 yards on four carries, including a long 17-yarder. Dalton went five for seven for 47 yards, including a 22-yard pass to Alex Erickson. LaFell had two catches for 18 yards, including a nine-yard reception on third-and-goal from the 10. The following play, Dalton found Tyler Kroft off of a play-action pass on fourth down for the second Bengals touchdown of the game. Bullock diked the extra point through and the score was tied at 14 points each with 7:12 remaining in the first half.

Bell kept pounding the rock when the Steelers’ offense returned to the field. He gained 21 yards on five carries, but had a long reception that was the lightning rod in the drive. Roethlisberger dumped the ball off to the running back, and he took it 42 yards to the Bengals 17-yard line. Bell made five Bengals defenders miss on that play, including Dre Kirkpatrick. Again, the Bengals’ defense looked foolish and outplayed.

Despite the huge gain from Bell, the Bengals stopped the Steelers offense the four-yard line as William Jackson did a great job in coverage, which wasn’t the only nice play from the second year cornerback on the afternoon. Chris Boswell made the short field goal to retake the lead with 1:50 to go until halftime.

The Bengals gained no yards in three plays and punted with 1:35 remaining and in response, the Steelers drove all the way down to the Bengals five-yard line in five plays. That was thanks in large part to a pass interference penalty on Kirkpatrick ,who did not have his best game. The Steelers stalled once again, but did go into the locker room with an extra three points. The Bengals trailed 20-14 at halftime.

Bell came out of the locker room and continued to hurt the Bengals’ defense as he ran for 29 yard on seven carries on the first Pittsburgh drive of the half. His last run of the possession was a four-yard loss on third-and-one, setting up another Boswell field goal. After converting, the Steelers had scored on five of their six possessions. The Bengals were down 23-14 with 7:23 left in the third quarter.

The Bengals got the ball back, but did not keep it long. Dalton tried to target Green for the first time since there was 11:17 left in the second quarter, but it bounced off of Green’s hand making an easy interception for Joe Haden. The Steelers couldn’t get a first down, but Boswell had no trouble knocking through a 49-yard field goal. After keeping the ball for two plays, the Bengals gave up yet another field goal with 5:28 to go in the third quarter.

Dalton tried to rally the Bengals’ offense, but instead things ended badly. The Bengals had the ball for five plays, but another pass (this one intended for anticipated rookie Josh Malone) was deflected and intercepted, this time by William Gay. It was the first target in Malone’s young career, but not a good throw by Dalton.

The Bengals regained possession of the ball after the defense stopped the Steelers on fourth-and-one. It took Marvin Lewis challenging and winning his second challenge of the day though for the Bengals to get the ball back. Lewis hadn’t won two challenges in one game since a November 23, 2014 game against the Houston Texans. In fact, Lewis hadn’t even won one challenge since the January 2016 playoff loss to the Steelers.

The Bengals squandered yet another possession and punted after three plays. At this point, the Bengals only had one first down in the second half.

After scoring two touchdowns early, the Bengals offense failed to advance the ball while the defense couldn’t stop Bell on the ground. The offensive line was an issue for the Bengals as Dalton was sacked repeatedly and it didn’t help when Mixon failed to pick up a blitz, causing a big loss.

As the clock was winding down, the Bengals defense finally forced the Steelers offense to punt. Instead of kicking it away, however, upback Robert Golden received the snap and passed a lob to an unguarded Darius Hayward-Bey for 44 yards. As a result of this fake punt, the Steelers had the ball on the Bengals 16-yard line. The Steelers once again failed to make it into the endzone, but Boswell converted the 25-yard field goal attempt. After adding insult to injury, the Steelers led 29-14 with 5:14 left in the game.

Tomlin was quite pleased with himself.

On the Bengals next offensive possession, the Bengals failed cross the line to gain and ended up turning the ball over on downs as Dalton inexplicably threw the ball away on fourth down.

The Steelers took over possession on the Bengals’ 32-yard line. James Conner ran the ball twice for 14 yards, but after that the Steelers were to kneel, sealing a 29-14 victory.

The Bengals are now 2-4, two and a half games behind in the AFC North and face the Colts next week in Cincinnati.