That 1-0 start to the 2021 regular season sure does seem like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
Just two weeks after the Steelers buoyed everyone’s spirits with an unexpected 23-16 Week 1 win over the Bills at Highmark Stadium on September 12, those spirits couldn’t be any lower after Pittsburgh dropped its second-straight game at Heinz Field on Sunday–24-10 to the once-lowly Bengals–to fall to 1-2.
Much like the first two games of the regular season, the Steelers’ offense couldn’t effectively move the ball early on, as promising drives were stymied by penalties to various offensive linemen.
Pittsburgh did catch a huge break midway through the first period when a pass from Joe Burrow was tipped high into the air and intercepted by safety Terrell Edmunds, who returned it 15 yards to the Pittsburgh 44. Unfortunately, the Steelers could do very little with the gift and actually gave the ball right back when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit by defensive lineman Sam Hubbard while attempting a pass, and the errant throw was picked off by linebacker Logan Wilson, who returned it to the Steelers 42.
The Bengals took advantage and drove right down the field and took a 7-0 lead on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to receiver Tyler Boyd, who broke a tackle by outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and scampered into the end zone.
Ingram, along with Jamir Jones, started Sunday’s game, thanks to groin injuries suffered by both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith over the first two weeks. With Watt and Highsmith both out, Pittsburgh’s great pass-rush was reduced to ashes, as the team failed to record a sack for the first time in 76 games.
The score remained 7-0 into the second quarter when Pittsburgh’s offense appeared to come to life and drove 86 yards on 15 plays to tie the game after Roethlisberger hit tight end Pat Freiermuth on a shuttle pass, and the rookie pounded his way into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown with 1:04 left in the half.
But the Bengals, who were set to receive the ball in the second half, were not content with running out the clock. Cincinnati immediately caught a break on its next possession when Ingram was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty that set the Bengals up at their own 47. Two plays later, Burrow found rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was one-on-one with cornerback James Pierre, for a 34-yard touchdown pass to re-establish the seven-point lead for the visitors.
The Bengals took a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter following a 10-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a 43-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.
The Bengals offense was back on the field just three plays later after Roethlisberger was picked off for the second time by Wilson, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 19.
Three plays later, Burrow and Chase hooked up for their second touchdown of the day, this time from nine yards out, to give Cincinnati a commanding 17-point lead with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
The Steelers marched 52 yards on their ensuing drive but could get no closer than the Cincinnati 24 yard-line. Kicker Chris Boswell then missed a 42-yard field goal, his first-ever miss against the Bengals, to really take the air out what was left of the Heinz Field crowd.
Those still in attendance used their lungs to vehemently voice their displeasure when Boswell was brought on again to attempt a field goal following an 18-play, 88-yard drive that consumed 9:03 of game clock; Boswell’s kick was true from 26 yards out to pull the home team to within two touchdowns with 8:09 remaining.
The Steelers last chance to make things interesting came up infamously short when a first and 10 from the Cincinnati 11 quickly went up in flames and culminated in a questionable swing pass to running back Najee Harris on fourth and 10; the rookie was quickly swallowed up by several Bengals defenders.
For the day, Roethlisberger completed 38 of 58 passes for 318 yards, one touchdown and two very costly interceptions.
Harris gained just 40 yards on 14 carries, but he did set a Steelers rookie record for running backs by catching 14 passes for 102 yards.
Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers this Sunday at 4:25 p.m.