Source: USA TODAY
PITTSBURGH — With a chance to make a statement before a national audience in prime time, the Cincinnati Bengals made one where many are wondering if they should be taken as a legitimate AFC contender.
The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated every facet of Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field and rolled to a 30-20 victory. After the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots, prospects appeared bright for the Bengals to take control of the No. 2 seed in the conference. Instead, they have a lot of questions with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
If the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions on Monday night, the lead in the AFC North is down to a game. At 9-5, the Bengals remain the third seed in the AFC by virtue of their win last week against Indianapolis.
“It’s tough, for sure, because we had everything in front of us,” Bengals receiver A.J. Green said. “We could have had ourselves set up in a great position if we could have come out here and won today.”
When it comes to prime-time games, the Bengals have been at their worst. They are 2-4 over the past two seasons. After losing just five road games in 2011 and ’12, they are 3-5 this season.
Andy Dalton’s struggles against the Steelers and in prime-time games continued. After going 7-of-17 for 65 yards in the first half, Dalton finished 25-of-44 for 230 yards with two touchdowns. Green had nine receptions for 93 yards.
“There’s no panic,” Dalton said. “There’s no worry about anything. We’re not frantic. We still have two games at home and have everything to accomplish, so we’ve got to take care of our business.”
Ben Roethlisberger improved to 15-6 against the Bengals as he completed his first 12 passes en route to going 20-of-25 for 191 yards and a touchdown. For the second straight game, the Bengals didn’t mount much pressure with their pass rush. Another thing that carried over from last week were plenty of missed tackles.
Antonio Brown’s run of strong games against the Bengals continued as he had five receptions for 66 yards. He had two touchdowns, including one on a punt return.
After being held to 44 rushing yards in the first meeting, the Steelers had 106 yards. Le’Veon Bell, who didn’t play in the Week 2 game, had 57 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.
After Pittsburgh was forced to punt on its opening drive, the Steelers scored on their next four possessions and also got a touchdown on a punt return.
“I have said for a bunch of weeks now that there is going to be no quit from me or from anybody,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought tonight was a good example of that.”
The special teams implosion started after the Bengals opening drive when Kevin Huber dropped the snap from Clark Harris and was tackled by Will Allen at the Steelers 1. Two plays later, Bell went in off right tackle for the touchdown.
Brown had the Steelers’ next two touchdowns. He completed an 8-play, 47-yard drive with a 12-yard reception from Roethlisberger, and then had a 67-yard punt return up the middle of the field. On the play, Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin leveled Huber at the Bengals 47. Garvin’s helmet caught Huber under his chin and resulted in a fractured jaw for Huber, which would end his season. The play could also draw a fine from the league. It is the second time in three seasons that Brown has returned a punt for a score against the Bengals.
Shaun Suisham would give the Steelers a 24-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal before the Bengals would get on the board midway through the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown by Giovani Bernard. The Bengals started the drive at the Steelers 47 after a 52-yard kick return by Brandon Tate. Other key plays on the drive included Green’s 19-yard reception on the first play and Dalton with a 2-yard sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Steelers 3. Suisham would push the margin back to 24 with a 45-yard field goal late in the half.
Suisham would account for the only points of the third quarter his third field goal (26 yards) before the Bengals tried to rally with two touchdowns. Tyler Eifert capped a 13-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-goal. After a Steelers punt, Marvin Jones brought the Bengals within 30-20 when he took advantage of a breakdown in coverage and was wide open in the end zone on a 13-yard pass from Dalton. The Bengals went for two, but Dalton’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers improved to 6-8 and snapped a two-game losing streak to the Bengals.
“It was a snowball effect,” Cincinnati center Kyle Cook said. “It’s tough when you’re all bundled up like that to start the game, and then the next thing you know you’re down 21-0. So, that makes it tough to get going and come back from that deficit.”
Joe Reedy covers the NFL for The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett affiliate. Contributing: Associated Press.