The Cincinnati Bengals took the field for their first full game without quarterback Joe Burrow on Sunday. Of course, it came when the Pittsburgh Steelers were set to come to town. That made this a Jake Browning and Kenny Pickett duel at quarterback.
The Bengals won the toss and deferred to the second half, which meant we got to see the Steelers’ offense after firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Pickett hit a big throw down the seems, but they still opted to punt on a 4th-and-2 inside Cincinnati territory, a situation that felt like they let the defense off.
Browning’s first drive looked like he was a bit lost. He had two pass plays. The first, his deep shot was covered, and on third down, he was too focused on T.J. Watt’s rush from his right. He even stared him down as Williams lost after initially winning his block. Browning fumbled on the play, but it was recovered.
Rookie corner back DJ Turner had a huge sequence the next drive. The Steelers were able to drive into the red zone after another big seem pass by Pickett. Turner was beaten by Diontae Johnson inside on a double move. The rookie stayed with the play and was able to dislodge the ball. You could make the argument that the catch was already made, but Pittsburgh didn’t challenge the play.
The following play on 3rd-and-2, defensive tackle Zach Carter swiped the ball out of Jaylen Warren’s grasp, and Turner was able to recover the fumble and get a decent return on the play to keep points off the board.
After Pittsburgh eventually got a field goal, Cincinnati finally got things together. A drive that was powered by a tipped pass that ended up in Ja’Marr Chase’s hands. He turned the play into a 31-yard gain that ended with Browning hitting his former Washington Huskies teammate Drew Sample in the flats, and Sample did the rest as he rumbled in for the touchdown, his second score of the season. It gave the Bengals a 7-3 lead they would hold until halftime.
The Bengals came out of the half with an impressive drive. Browning was making plays and even snuck a 25-yard pass into tight coverage for Chase. However, he tried to force it again when inside the end zone, but the defender read the outside throw to Chase and came away with an interception.
Pittsburgh followed up the turnover with a methodical drive where tight end Pat Freiermuth got to over 100 yards receiving yards, picking up a couple of key plays. The drive ended in a pretty frustrating fashion for the Cincinnati defense. Najee Harris was able to bounce a run play outside inside the five-yard line for a touchdown. There was a flag thrown on the play as there was a serious case that Germaine Pratt was held and prevented from getting to the outside. However, the flag was picked up, and the touchdown stood.
The Steelers got a stop after Browning benefited from Chase’s great luck to be in the right spot from a tipped pass on a play that should’ve been taken back for a touchdown by the defense. Browning’s luck wasn’t great on third down as he avoided initial pressure from the outside but ran all the way up into the interior pressure for a sack.
Pickett was able to hit Kenny Pickens down the sideline as he beat Mike Hilton on a slot fade route. That set up a field goal to give Pittsburgh a 13-7 lead with a little over seven minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals offense couldn’t get anything going as a Sample and Williams miscommunication that let Watt get to Browning untouched. The Steelers were able to easily gash the Bengals defense by running the ball to get a 33-yard field goal to extend the lead to 16-7 with 2:51 to go, and Cincinnati used all their timeouts to preserve that much time.
A big catch and run by Mixon to the Steelers 36-yard line set up a field goal by Evan McPherson with just over two minutes left. However, with no timeouts, Cincinnati had to get an onside kick to have a chance. They were unable to get it, and Pittsburgh was able to run out the clock for a 16-10 win.
This loss is unfortunate as the Bengals drop to 5-6, but after Burrow’s injury, expectations had to change. Many hoped Browning would come in and be able to make something happen on offense.
However, the offense couldn’t get the running game going at all, and he just had issues keeping the offense in rhythm. The interception was a killer, but the offense needs to be able to run the ball if they are to have a chance.
The Bengals defense also gave up too many splash plays again. It put the Steelers in position to at least leave the Bengals with long fields. The recipe was a loss in the end. A game the Steelers probably feel like they escaped more than anything. You just have to wonder how much fight this roster has now under .500 and without Burrow.
Up next, the Bengals are on the road to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football in Week 13.
Now, let’s discuss the game.