Another Bengals vs Steelers game got wildly out of hand on Monday Night Football.
After having a strong lead for the entirety of the first half, the Bengals fell victim to injuries and dirty play from Pittsburgh as the Steelers fought back and won 23-20 at Paul Brown Stadium to sweep the Bengals once again.
It was hard to watch and the Bengals will have a good deal of injured players heading into next week’s game against the Bears.
The Steelers received the opening kickoff and the three Killer B’s all got involved right away. Le’Veon Bell ran the ball on the first play and Ben Roethlisberger passed to Antonio Brown on the second.
The Steelers’ momentum didn’t last long, however, as Adam Jones intercepted a Roethlisberger pass just three plays later. The turnover combined with a Bell unnecessary roughness penalty on Vontaze Burfict gave the Bengals great starting position with the ball on the Steelers’ 44 yard-line and 12:52 left in the first quarter.
Andy Dalton found Tyler Kroft for 19 yards on the Bengals’ first offensive play of the game. The Bengals’ offense slowed, but not before the damage was done. Randy Bullock was able to make 35-yard field goal to give his team a 3-0 lead to open the game with 10:48.
The Bengals had another opportunity to strike after the Steelers punted. C.J. Uzomah took his fourth reception of the year for 21 yards to get his team out of their own red zone. Joe Mixon would help move the ball too, taking the rock five times for 26 yards. Dalton even added his own run of 11 yards to move the ball into the red zone.
Dalton would finish the drive with an eight yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. The star receiver faked out cornerback Coty Sensabaugh with a move to the inside, then exploded to the outside and kept his toes as he caught the fade from Dalton. Bullock added the extra point with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the next drive, Dunlap sacked Roethlisberger on third down to force another punt. Not only did this sack stop the Steelers’ drive, but it gave Dunlap 61.5 career sacks, which was good enough to tie former Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams for second all-time in Bengals’ history.
The two teams traded punts, but halfway through the second quarter Mixon had to leave the game due to a concussion. The rookie was slow to get up after being tackled by Vince Williams and Bud Dupree. Not only was the Bengals’ best running back out for the foreseeable future, but now the only running backs active were Giovani Bernard and Brian Hill (who was added to the roster just a few weeks ago from the Falcons’ practice squad).
Bernard answered the call by pounding the rock four times for 30 yards. The Bengals moved the chains thanks to an awesome third down catch on the sideline by Green and another third down reception in traffic by Tyler Boyd. On another third down play with 31 seconds left in the half, Dalton floated the ball down the middle toGreen who spun into the endzone for the score. Bullock’s extra point put an exclamation mark on a 17-0 lead for the Bengals as halftime approached.
With only half a minute to go, the Steelers surprisingly were able to move into the red zone. Bell, who only gained 25 yards in the first 29 and a half minutes, broke out for a 33 yard reception, which was followed by a pass inference penalty by Dre Kirkpatrick. The penalty gave the Steelers the ball on the 12-yard line. The chip shot from Chris Boswell was good, and the Steelers were finally on the board, much to the dismay of the Bengals. The last drive aside, the Bengals were clearly dominating the Steelers in the first two quarters, leading 17-3 at halftime.
The first half was highlighted by Green’s ability to find open space in a banged-up Steelers’ secondary. Bernard was also pleasantly surprising, coming into relieve Mixon, who was ruled out with a concussion. Not only was Bernard’s rushing supremely important, but his blitz pickups helped buy Dalton enough time to make some important throws.
The Bengals received the second half kickoff, but went three-and-out. When the Steelers got the ball back, they gave the ball to Bell five times with a result of 26 yards, which is more than he had in the entire first half. After getting going on the ground, Bell took a short pass for 35 yards and ran past a hesitant Jordan Evans and William Jackson for the score. The young defenders attempted to push Bell out of bounds, but failed and lazily gave up on the play as the Steelers’ running back blew them away. Boswell’s extra point was good, and the Bengals’ 17-point lead was quickly diminishing. The Steelers were crawling back, now down only 17-10 with 8:58 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals tried to get Green going again with a deep pass that would have been a 61-yard touchdown pass from Dalton. The play did not count, as Bernard was called for holding on such a questionable penalty, commentator Sean McDonough could only describe it as “unbelievable.” Not only did it wipe away a touchdown, but it backed up the Bengals 10 yards.
REALLLY? "Really weak. If you're going to call that, you're going to call a holding penalty on every play all night" - the announcers. @NFL— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) December 5, 2017
Dalton would somehow find a way out of the jam, however. The Red Rifle dropped a dime near the sideline on third-and-16. Bernard kept running down the Steelers’ throats and moved the Bengals into field goal range where Bullock knocked the field goal through. With 3:38 remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals still led 20-10.
As the Steelers tried to dig out of the hole early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals’ solid pass defense wasn’t enough to stop Big Ben and Bell. The Steelers’ running back ran over Kirkpatrick on a fourth down in their own territory to keep the drive alive. Kirkpatrick was flagged two plays later for a pass interference that analyst Jon Gruden said was “the worst call I’ve ever seen.” That gave the Steelers the ball at the Bengals’ 21-yard line. The Bengals’ defense found enough in the tank to stop the Steelers there as Boswell knocked a three-pointer through the uprights. With only 10:04 remaining in the game, the Bengals were barely holding onto a 20-13 lead.
In order to keep the lead, the Bengals would have to stop committing penalties.
189 yards in penalties — 138 on the #Bengals. If I’m running the NFL, I tell the refs to cut penalties by 25 percent.— John Fay (@johnfayman) December 5, 2017
They weren’t even close to being done. Both teams would add more penalties almost immediately after Fay posted that tweet. The Bengals would go on to lose 173 yards in penalties by the end of the game, setting a new franchise record.
One such penalty came on a running play as Burfict was knocked to the ground by JuJu Smith-Schuster. Burfict was neither involved in the play nor looking at Smith-Schuster. The hit drew a flag and the rookie receiver was given a second flag for taunting. Even though he will surely be fined and maybe suspended, Gruden was still wondering why he wasn’t ejected. Burfict ended up being carted off the field.
Slo-mo look at Schuster hitting Burfict pic.twitter.com/o3RViZ44fZ— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 5, 2017
Brown and Bell added insult to injury as the Steelers approached scoring position. Brown would eventually find his way into the end zone to level the score. Emotions were running high as George Iloka was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the touchdown. Boswell leveled the score at 20, with 3:55 left in the game.
With the game on the line, the Bengals couldn’t find a way to gain a mere 10 yards. Kevin Huber punted the ball over to the Steelers as Roethlisberger tried to close the game out. The Bengals looked completely helpless in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and let the Steelers walk down the field. Boswell capped off the game with a 38-yard field goal as time expired.
With the Bengals’ season on the line, Cincinnati absolutely disintegrated in the second half, building the case for Marvin Lewis’ firing. After jumping out 17-0, the Steelers outscored the Bengals in the second half 20-3 to take the lead and win the game. Despite standout performances from Dalton, Green, and Bernard, the Bengals would walk away empty-handed with all hopes of a playoff berth finally snuffed out.
The Bengals would fall to 5-7 and widen the gap in the AFC Wild card race.