The Pittsburgh Steelers took on 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made his return to the starting lineup after missing a month with a sprained MCL and bruised tibia.
Things started out great, as Roethlisberger drove the offense 80 yards on the game’s opening drive, a drive that culminated in a Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown one-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0. Unfortunately for the Steelers and their veteran quarterback, that was about as good as it got for the offense the rest of the afternoon.
Having said that, however, Pittsburgh managed to stay on top for nearly the entire afternoon, thanks to a great defensive effort that limited the high-powered Bengals offense to just two Mike Nugent field goals through three quarters.
- Clinging to a 10-6 lead in the fourth quarter, the Steelers defense came through on consecutive drives.
After moving Cincinnati’s offense to Pittsburgh’s five yard line, a third down pass from Andy Dalton was picked off by cornerback Antwon Blake two yards deep in the end zone, and he returned it to Pittsburgh’s 40 yard line, where the home team set up shop with 9:00 left in the game. Unfortunately, the offense continued to struggle behind Roethlisberger and was forced to punt after gaining just four yards on three plays.
However, on the Bengals’ next series, they faced a third and 25 from their own nine yard line, a down and distance that was set up by a fumble by Dalton on the first play of the drive. Dalton threw a pass deep down the left sideline that was intended for receiver A.J. Green, but it was intercepted by safety Mike Mitchell at the 27 yard line; after returning it 17 yards to the 44, Pittsburgh’s offense took over at its own 24 with just 6:26 remaining, following a blocking penalty on the return.
But just when it looked like the Steelers would survive a tough, low-scoring AFC North battle and improve to 5-3 and one-and-a-half games behind Cincinnati, disaster struck. Two plays following Mitchell’s interception, Roethlisberger threw his second pick of the day, when safety Shawn Williams stepped in front a pass intended for fullback Will Johnson, and the Bengals had it first and 10 from Pittsburgh’s 45.
- Six plays later, Dalton found Green on a nine yard touchdown pass, and the Bengals had a 13-10 lead with 2:57 remaining.
On the first play of Pittsburgh’s next series, Roethlisberger threw his third interception of the afternoon, when Reggie Nelson was the benefactor of a high, sailing pass down the middle that was intended for Brown. Nelson returned it to the 26, and the Bengals took over on offense with 2:41 remaining.
- Believe it or not, the Bengals couldn’t quite put things away, and after Nugent’s third field goal of the day from 44 yards, Pittsburgh had one last gasp.
Starting at his own 20, Ben Roethlisberger managed to get the offense down to the Cincinnati 16 yard line with four seconds remaining. But on the game’s final play, Roethlisberger’s pass in the back of the end zone intended for Brown was incomplete, as the receiver caught it out of bounds, thus ending the game.
The Bengals are now 7-0 and hold a three-and-a-half game lead over Pittsburgh (4-4) in the AFC North, with only half a season remaining.
- If there’s anything that might be worse than losing a gut-wrenching home game to the first place team in the division, it could be losing your star running back to what looks to be a serious knee injury.
In just his fifth game back after serving a two-game suspension to start the season, running back Le’Veon Bell had to be carted to the locker room early in the second quarter after suffering what appeared to be a pretty significant knee injury on a short pass from Roethlisberger. Bell was tackled by two Bengals defenders as he went out of bounds, and his right knee was caught under his body and bent in an awkward fashion.
Ironically enough, in the previous game played at Heinz Field between these two bitter AFC North rivals in the 2014 regular season finale on December 28, 2014, Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee and missed the wild card playoff loss to Baltimore the following week.
- After the game, the Steelers Radio Network reported that Bell returned to Heinz Field on crutches after being examined.
In his post-game press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t give any further information on the significance of Bell’s injury.
At 4-4, the Steelers best path to the playoffs now appears to be the wild card route. Next week, in its second of three-straight home games, Pittsburgh takes on a 4-3 Raiders team in a game that should have huge playoff implications down the stretch.