It wasn’t easy as the rains kept falling, which caused a lot of dropped passes, bad passes and slips and falls, but the Pittsburgh Steelers endured it all and made the necessary plays to beat their AFC North Rival-Cincinnati Bengals 24-16 in their first matchup since their dramatic Wild Card Game just 8 months ago in which the Steelers won 18-16 in Cincinnati.
Sunday’s game was supposed to be one that was a reminder of that Wild Card thriller, although it was missing some of the key role players of that game: Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was suspended the first 4 games this season after injuring Steelers WR Antonio Brown in that game, and Steelers WR Martavis Bryant, who scored the Steelers only TD in that game is suspended the entire 2016 season for violated the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy.
Nevertheless, the two teams faced off before a torrential downpour at Heinz Field and the Steelers made a good impression at their Home Opener by getting the win and improving to 2-0, tied with the surprising Baltimore Ravens for first place in the AFC North Division. In a sports world where they have stats on everything, the Steelers showed that stats aren’t always everything as they made sure the most important stat mattered, on the scoreboard.
As was mentioned before, it wasn’t pretty and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger confirmed that as the ball slipped out of his hand a few times on their opening drives. Such miscues proved to be costly to the Steelers as they were forced to punt on their first drive, and on their second drive, the Steelers boldly went for it on 4th down, but Roethlisberger threw a pass that was beyond it’s intended target and settled into the hands of Bengals CB Adam “Pacman” Jones for an interception.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the Bengals and QB Andy Dalton couldn’t fare any better as they also suffered from sloppy play on their first 2 drives that ended in 3-and-outs. But the Steelers struck gold on their 3rd drive as they went 66 yards on 5 plays when Roethlisberger found TE Xavier Grimble for a 20-yard TD to give them a 7-0 lead. The play was supported by a 44-yard pass from Roethlisberger to WR Sammie Coates.
The Bengals then had an impressive drive of their own as they went 8 plays for 68 yards, but thanks to the Steelers improving defense, the Bengals had to settle for a 25-yard Mike Nugent FG to close the Steelers lead to 7-3. When the Steelers got the ball back, the sloppiness continued as well as they were unable to convert and had to punt the ball back to the Bengals, and then the Bengals eventually had to punt the ball back to the Steelers. In fact, both teams exchanged punts 2 more times, before the Steelers put more points on the board via a 49-yard FG by K Chris Boswell to extend their lead to 10-3.
After the Bengals punted once more, the Steelers took over and ended up with another miscue as Roethlisberger through his second interception of the game when his deep pass landed into the hands of Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick. That pass was intended for Coates. The Bengals were able to convert that turnover into another Nugent FG, this time from 33 yards to close the Steelers lead to 10-6. That FG also ended the first half.
In the second half, the rain settled and the Steelers woke up after both teams once again exchanged punts. Once again, on their 3rd drive, Roethlisberger and the Steelers drove down the field for their second TD when Roethlisberger found TE Jesse James for a 9-yard pass to extend their lead to 17-6, and after Nugent’s 3rd FG closed the Steelers lead to 17-9, the Steelers were at it again as the 4th quarter began. Roethlisberger once again put on another impressive drive and he also ran for 14 yards to the Bengals 5-yard line to set up a first and goal. Roethlisberger then found a wide-open DeAngelo Williams for a 4-yard TD, extending their lead to 24-9.
If you might have thought the game was over no worries, because the Steelers defense thought it was over too. Which explains why they played so sloppy on the ensuing drive. Dalton and the Bengals reverted to short passes and slowly drove down the field and into the endzone when Dalton found RB Giovanni Bernard for a 25-yard TD pass to close the Steelers lead to 24-16.
Apparently, the Steelers offense also thought the game was over, because they were absolutely putrid on their next drive, and they punted the ball back to the Bengals with over 3:00 left in the game. But the Bengals would basically shoot themselves in the foot when rookie Tyler Boyd’s catch from Dalton slipped out of his hands for a fumble, which was recovered by Steelers S Robert Golden. Even though the review showed that Boyd’s knee touched when he fumbled. The call stood and the Steelers took over and eventually killed the clock and punted the ball back to the Bengals with seconds left. Time eventually expired, securing the Steelers 24-16 victory.
Roethlisberger didn’t have his best game as he threw for 3 interceptions, but he was great when he had to be as he passed for 259 yards and 3 TDs, including his 14-yard run. Williams had another great game as he rushed 32 times for 94 yards and caught the 4-yard TD. He also had 4 receptions for 38 yards, but it was Coates who was the receiving leader with 97 yards on only 2 catches, with his longest being 53 yards. Missing from the stat party was Antonio Brown as he was the victim of dropped passes and being overthrown. His day ended with only 4 catches for 39 yards.
But Brown did make some history as he surpassed HOF John Stallworth (537) for the third-most receptions in Steelers history, with 538 and has Extended his consecutive regular-season games started streak to 38 – the third-longest active consecutive games started streak among NFL wide receivers.
For the Bengals, Dalton passed for 366 yards and a TD, and Bernard caught 6 passes for 100 yards and the TD. Boyd who played his college ball at Pitt also had an impressive game when he caught 6 passes for 78 yards. Star WR AJ Green was also missing as he was held to only 38 yards on 2 catches.
On defense, Steelers LB Ryan Shazier led his team with 11 total tackles and fellow LB Arthur Moats got the game’s only sack. For the Bengals, LB Karlos Dansby led his team with 10 total tackles, DE Will Clarke got his team’s only sack and Jones and Kirkpatrick had the interceptions.
Ray’s take: Overall, I think the Steelers were the better team and although I felt like they could’ve put more points on the board on offense, they did so when they had to. I like the fact that they’ve scored more TDs than field goals in their first 2 games. Big Ben could’ve played better, but it was the result of the weather. Brown knows he could’ve played better, and yes, he was overthrown a few times, but sometimes if you’re the best at what you do, you have to be reminded that ‘just showing up’ won’t get the job done. I think it was a humbling experience for the NFL’s best WR. But he’ll be back next week. On defense, the Steelers put significant pressure on Dalton, resulting in several bad passes and for the second-straight game, the defense didn’t give up a TD. Impressive.
The Steelers will now head back on the road to face the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday while the Bengals will host the Denver Broncos.
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