Paul Daugherty, email@example.com
September 18, 2016
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) fumbles the ball in the fourth quarter during the Week 2 NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. (Kareem Elgazzar)
PITTSBURGH – Maybe Tyler Boyd fumbled, and maybe he didn’t. Maybe C.J. Uzomah made that catch in the back of the end zone and maybe, as Andrew Whitworth suggested, the Steelers offensive linemen held every available Bengals body part like drowning men seeking a life raft.
It’s a hard game, some days harder than others. Ask Boyd, the Pittsburgh kid who was having a good homecoming until he fumbled away Cincinnati’s last chance, at the Steelers 33-yard line with 1:50 to play. The best you can do when you lose a game like this is forget about it. That was the theme in the postgame locker room after Pittsburgh won Round 1 in the Great AFC North Blood Feud, 24-16, at Ketchup Stadium.
“It’s an extremely long season,’’ Whitworth said, and for once, the most obvious quote was also the most astute. “A lot of things happen from now to Week 17.’’
The Bengals have bigger worries than this loss. Start with the running game, which is 0-for-the season. On a day when an annoying rain fell most of the time, it’s a big edge if you don’t have to throw 54 times, the way Andy Dalton did. But for the second straight week, Jeremy Hill tread water.
Hill had nowhere to go, mostly. The Bengals ran 18 times for 46 yards. Most notably they had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter and had such faith in their ground game, they threw twice in three plays, both incomplete. Hill ran once, for nothing.
The Bengals also saw lots of third-and-longs, usually because the Steelers stoned runs on first down. The line kept Dalton clean this week, but again it got no push. That’s a problem in a division where teams pride themselves on grinding out wins.
And before we forget, this was not the Grudge-a-palooza some might have expected. It looked remarkably like a football game, not a Dana White garden party. The Bengals and Steelers played within Mr. Goodell’s rules of gentility.
Nor was it a game the Bengals should have won because, well, they never gave anyone that impression. The Steelers won the game on only their second credible drive of the afternoon. Their 68-yard, 12-play march was a thing of willful beauty that put them ahead 24-9 with 6:48 to go. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a titanic day – two first-half interceptions, a QB Rating of 78.5 – but he was at his resourceful best when it was needed most.
Roethlisberger’s twinkle-toes ability to extend plays seems eternal. He ran 14 yards on 2nd-and-9 on that decisive TD drive, to give the Steelers a first down at the Bengals 5. Three plays later, Pittsburgh scored.
Roethlisberger overcame a terrific Bengals effort on Antonio Brown. Pacman Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick bumped and bothered Brown at the line and generally kept him from being a factor. Roethlisberger threw at Brown 11 times, completed just four, for 39 yards. Even as, according to Whitworth, there was some cheatin’ going on.
“I think when the NFL gets a look at the tape they’re going to be shocked at how many holds (the Steelers) got away with,’’ he said. “Good lord, I saw a couple of complete, turn-around takedowns.’’
Meanwhile, the Bengals' offense waited until after that touchdown to loosen up and show itself. Watching them for three-plus quarters gave you the impression they weren’t quite sure who they wanted to be or what they wanted to do. Last week, they struggled the same way, until they upped the tempo with short completions from the no-huddle. This week, they didn’t force the action until they had to.
A.J. Green devastated Darrelle Revis last Sunday. This week, he couldn’t solve Ross Cockrell. Is there a reason for that beyond “that’s just how it works in the NFL’’?
Regardless, zero touchdowns for almost 57 minutes is no way to win a football game.
Afterward, Tyler Boyd allowed that he didn’t think he fumbled, Andy Dalton allowed that the weather was no factor and everyone else allowed that there was pride to be taken from the aborted comeback and beyond that, fuhgeddaboutit. It was solid thinking, especially if they follow through. Denver comes to PBS next Sunday.
The Steelers were clearly better than the Bengals this time. The teams will meet again at least once more this year. Strip away the hype, Sunday meant little. We’ll all reconvene Sunday night Dec. 18, Game 15, and see where we stand.
Meantime, Bengals, do something about the running game.