By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers had an up and down first half, particularly on offense, in which they had two prolonged drives, one of which ended in a turnover, with the other in the end zone. A miscue on defense led to a big play on a drive that ultimately resulted in a Cincinnati Bengals touchdown. The two also registered a field goal apiece, with the score tied at 10 and the Bengals starting the second half with the ball.
Two small gains on first and second down put the Bengals on third down and short right away. The Steelers got pressure on Andy Dalton, who threw a poor pass for the three-and-out. The ensuing punt left the Steelers with good starting field position at the 37-yard line.
Isaac Redman could not gain much on first down after a failed block by David Paulson. In the no huddle, Ben Roethlisberger threw a screen to Antonio Brown, but it was snuffed out for no gain to set up third and long. On third down, Roethlisberger bought some time to find Brown for a big gain, but Marcus Gilbert was flagged for a questionable tripping call to set up third and 20 instead. On third down, Roethlisberger once again bought a lot of time, but he could find nothing and was ultimately dropped for a big loss to completely negate the positive starting field position.
The Steelers once again had good coverage on the punt, and a holding call on the Bengals helped alleviate the loss of field position as well. A missed tackle by Ryan Clark on Jermaine Gresham on second down quickly got the Bengals to midfield, however. LaMarr Woodley got a big hit on Dalton, but he still completed the pass for a first down, which put the Bengals in field goal range. A simple dump off pass to the back out of the backfield led to an untouched touchdown for Giovani Bernard to take a 17-10 lead.
Emmanuel Sanders was dropped for a loss on another quick screen on first down. In the no huddle, Roethlisberger found Brown for nine yards to set up third and two. Redman was stopped after one yard to force a punt. Shamarko Thomas forced the fair catch.
A.J. Green beat Ike Taylor for a first down, but the latter did a good job of preventing yards after the catch. A holding call on the Bengals backed them up ten yards, however. They gained back the yardage on first down, but on second, a screen gained just two to set up third and eight. On third down, Woodley nearly got the sack, but he did force Dalton to scramble shy of a first down to force a punt.
Three straight incompletions resulted in a quick three-and-out for the Steelers, putting Zoltan Mesko back out on the field at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Mohamed Sanu got the Bengals to midfield on the second play of the Bengals’ drive. Just outside the red zone, BenJarvus Green-Ellis just barely converted a third and two for a fresh set of downs. LaMarr Woodley was flagged for offsides to give the Bengals a first down on a third down that fell incomplete, setting up first and goal.
Ziggy Hood made the stop on first and goal, and a fade to Green fell incomplete. Brett Keisel came up with the deflection on third down, which may well have saved the Steelers four points. Still, a field goal gave the Bengals a two-possession lead with eight minutes to play, up 20-10.
Felix Jones returned the kickoff a couple yards shy of the 20 to set up a long field for Roethlisberger and the offense to try to begin a comeback. Roethlisberger’s first pass was nearly intercepted by Leon Hall, intended for Brown. On second down, a pump fake got Jerricho Cotchery open for a good gain down to the 39. Emmanuel Sanders hauled in a deep pass, but he was out of bounds against Dre Kirkpatrick. A neutral zone infraction, however, netted five yards anyway.
After the penalty, Cotchery caught a high pass down the middle for a first down. With Cincinnati bringing the pressure, Roethlisberger found Paulson for another first down to the 35. After an incompletion, Emmanuel Sanders gained eight yards on a short pass to set up third and short. Roethlisberger’s third down pass was too high for Cotchery. It bounced off his hands and was picked off by Reggie Nelson, which essentially sealed the game by spoiling a scoring opportunity, as they were in field goal range.
On third and six, Green-Ellis ran for the first down, with Domata Peko serving as the lead blocker. Woodley was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Bengals another first down to help wrap up the game with three minutes remaining in a two-score game. The Steelers finally forced a punt inside of the two-minute warning.
The Steelers repeatedly failed to get out of bounds on every pass attempt even as they got down the field. Roethlisberger was able to hit Cotchery for 31 yards, but there were just 23 seconds left by that point. From the 34, Roethlisberger wanted to let go a Hail Mary, but he was pressured by Geno Atkins after he beat David DeCastro. Brown recorded another first down, but in the middle of the field, as the clock wound down to a highly disappointing 0-2 start.