The Bengals have long had struggles against the Steelers, having lost each of the last five matchups. The Bengals have also had well-documented struggles in primetime.
Both struggles continued in emphatic fashion on Monday night, as the Bengals dropped their fourth of the season to the Steelers, losing 27-3.
The Bengals’ offense was helpless to do anything against the Steelers’ defense. Andy Dalton only passed for 166, mostly because he was throwing off balance nearly the whole game due to the pressure in his face.
The Bengals’ defense fared no better, showing weaknesses in the run game that were reminiscent of the Week 2 matchup against the 49ers.
The Bengals pinned the Steelers deep off of a punt following their opening drive, and Nick Vigil forced a fumble out of the hands of Diontae Johnson. Jessie Bates III recovered the ball on the 15-yard line, but the Bengals couldn’t quite convert, so Randy Bullock kicked a 28-yard field goal with 8:22 left in the quarter. It was an ugly beginning to the first quarter, but the Bengals were ahead 3-0 nonetheless.
The Steelers moved the ball down the field, getting nearly four yards per play. They got all the way to the Bengals’ 42-yard line where the defense stopped running back Benny Snell on third down. Brandon Wilson came in and stopped James Conner on fourth down to get a turnover on downs for the Bengals. The offensive line couldn’t stand up to the Steelers’ pass rush, so they got a quick three and out.
Both teams were engaged in a punting battle for most of the first half, and the Steelers finally gained the field position advantage and started a drive inside Bengals’ territory. Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 25 yards before Mason Rudolph connected with Conner for a 21-yard touchdown. Conner got lost in coverage, so it was an easy pass, and the second-year running back got a good block to pave his way into the end zone. Boswell’s extra point with 10:32 left in the half gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead.
The Bengals’ offense finally turned on, and Andy Dalton was doing a great job of distributing the ball to John Ross and Tyler Boyd. But what was the best drive of the day ended in a strip sack from Bud Dupree, which was recovered by T.J. Watt.
Working from the Bengals’ 29-yard line, the Steelers leaned on Conner and Samuels on the next drive, and the Bengals could not come up with an answer. The two combined for 42 yards going into the two-minute warning. The Bengals finally got Samuels down behind the line of scrimmage to force a fourth down, so Boswell kicked another field goal from 29 yards, and the Bengals were quickly trailing by a touchdown, down 10-3 with 58 second to go in the half.
The first half wasn’t particularly pleasing for either team, as turnovers cost both teams points. In the end, the Steelers were the only team of the two that could manufacture a scoring drive that didn’t come off of a turnover, so they had the lead at halftime.
The Steelers picked up where they left off and handed the ball off to Conner, who gained 21 yards on the first touch of the game. He limped off he field, but came back just a few plays later to gash the defense for another 21-yard gain to set the Steelers up at the goal line. On the next play, the Steelers faked to Conner, but instead handed the ball of to Samuels, who scored his first touchdown of the game. With 10:36 to go in the third quarter, the Steelers increased their lead to 17-3.
The Bengals’ offense was totally overwhelmed by the Steelers, so they quickly punted. Instead of going to the running backs, which had worked incredibly well for the Steelers up to that point, Mason Rudolph caught the defense cheating up and aired out a 43-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, who was at least 15 yards away from the closest defender. With 9:32 left, the Steelers now had a commanding lead, up 24-3 with the extra point.
The offense finally came back to life in the fourth quarter, even though it was 45 minutes too late. Dalton targeted Auden Tate three times in the opening drive of the fourth quarter, finding him twice for 29 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty. The Bengals made it all the way to the eight-yard line, but they moved backwards due to a penalty and Dalton ended the drive with an interception in the end zone.
The Steelers cashed in on some penalties and kept pounding the ball on the ground. Boswell connected on another field goal, this one from 49 yards. With 5:51 left in the game, the Steelers widened the gap further, up 27-3.
The Bengals tried to get one more score before the final whistle, but the offensive line gave up penalty yards and sacks, stopping any progress the Bengals could have made. The 27-3 score would be final.
The Steelers got their first win of the season, while the Bengals dropped to 0-4. The Bengals dropped to sole ownership of last place in the division, having lost to the only division foe they have faced.
The Bengals return to Cincinnati next week to take on the winless Cardinals, hoping to get their first win of the season.