For the first time in history, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers met on the gridiron to kick off the season, and all sorts of madness ensued. The reigning AFC Champions lost 23-20 to the Steelers in the last seconds of overtime.
Joe Burrow had a tumultuous season-opening performance, turning the ball over five times and taking seven sacks behind an offensive line that failed to limit both Cameron Heyward and TJ Watt. The latter finished with a sack, three tackles for loss, and an interception. But where Burrow struggled, the Bengals’ defense thrived, limiting the Steelers’ offense to 267 yards and just 13 first downs in five quarters of play.
The start was comically disastrous. Following a three-and-out from the defense, Cordell Volson gave up a sack to Cameron Heyward on the very first play. Joe Burrow wasn’t sacked on the next play, but his first throw ended up in the hands of Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers’ safety proceeded to return the interception to the house for the game’s first score.
It was a bad first showing for the Bengals’ new-look offensive line. Alex Highsmith gave Jonah Williams trouble early on and ended up with a strip-sack on Burrow later in the period. The game would’ve gotten out of hand had Cincinnati’s defense not stuffed the Steelers at the goal-line on the ensuing drive. Instead of stepping on the Bengals’ throat, the Steelers settled for three.
Pittsburgh’s early offensive struggles were met with a stout Bengals’ defense, but turnovers from the offense made the first half all about the visitors. Burrow threw three interceptions to go with the strip-sack in the first two quarters. All 17 of the Steelers’ first half points came off the turnovers they forced.
Lou Anarumo’s unit came up big again to start the third quarter. Following a booming punt from Kevin Huber in his 208th game as a Bengal, the defense continued to stifle the Steelers’ offensive attack. Burrow and the offense received great field position on the ensuing drive and No. 9 threw his first touchdown of the season to Tyler Boyd. A two-point conversion to Mike Thomas, who was playing for a concussed Tee Higgins, brought the game to 17-14.
While Higgins was recovering on the sidelines, Ja’Marr Chase picked up right where he left off last year. The second-year receiver hauled in 10 catches for 129 yards against the Steelers’ secondary. Joe Mixon also had a solid debut despite having his left arm cut open in the third quarter. Mixon finished with 145 total yards on 34 touches.
Cincinnati failed to get anything going offensively to begin the fourth quarter, and Pittsburgh took advantage of excellent field position, knocking in a field goal to increase their lead to 20-14. The Bengals had a chance to get their first lead of the day on the next drive and came to a crucial decision at the Steelers’ 36-yard line. Instead of opting for a 54-yard field goal, the offense stayed on the field and Burrow threw his fourth interception of the game.
Once more, the Bengals’ defense bailed out their offensive counterparts and sent the Steelers off the field for another three-and-out. Burrow and Co. made it all the way to the Steelers’ one-yard line but failed to punch in the touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. Hope was kept alive after the Steelers only took seconds off the clock on the following drive, and this time, the Bengals’ final drive ended in a touchdown.
Chase and Burrow connected with just two seconds remaining, and all they needed was an extra point to end it. But instead of Clark Harris trotting out at long snapper, Mitchell Wilcox went in for him due to a biceps injury Harris suffered earlier. The snap was slow and Fitzpatrick blocked Evan McPherson’s extra point, sending the game to overtime.
Cincinnati got the Steelers off the field on the first possession of overtime, and following a 64-yard drive, the Bengals once again sent Wilcox out to snap for Kevin Huber and McPherson. This time, the snap was high, the laces were never aligned, and McPherson missed the 29-yard attempt wide left. The Steelers finally showed signs of life against the Bengals’ defense, got Chris Boswell in range, and the veteran kicker doinked it from 55 yards out.
Yep. Not a single thing made sense this game.
Want more insanity? On the following drive, Burrow was strip-sacked on third down at midfield, and Samaje Perine scooped it up and returned it for 12 yards. But the rules don’t allow another offensive player to advance the ball, so the Bengals were out of field goal range, eliminating any chance of Wilcox redeeming himself.
Boswell did redeem himself and knocked in a 53-yarder as time expired as the Bengals fall to 0-1 to start the season. They’re on the road next week with a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.