Steelers flag down Bengals at gun

Posted Dec 4, 2017

Ugly. Nasty. Physical. And the Bengals were on the short end of it when they committed a franchise-record 168 yards in penalties in blowing a 17-point lead in a 23-20 loss Monday night at rainy Paul Brown Stadium.

It was classic Bengals-Steelers and it could have been 1975 or 2017.

Ugly. Nasty. Physical. And the Bengals were on the short end of it when they committed a franchise-record 173 yards in penalties in blowing a 17-point lead in a 23-20 loss Monday night at rainy and perplexed Paul Brown Stadium.

Actually, now that the Bengals are 5-7 and just about out of it, it was most like 2015, the last time they played the Steelers in a prime-time elimination game. Then, that was a Wild Card Game where a 16-15 lead was lost in the last 1:23 on a fumble and then penalties. In this one, it took an agonizing 30 minutes and 13 penalties to eat away at the lead.

Kicker Chris Boswell won it with a 38-yard field goal at the gun fittingly after he moved five yards closer on a penalty on Josh Shaw for jumping offsides.

The marquee defensive players from each team left on a backboard when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier collided with rookie wide receiver Josh Malone early in the first quarter and Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict exited with six minutes left when rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster gave him a cheap shot on a blind-side block and then stepped over him, straddled him, and picked up a taunting penalty as well as a roughing penalty.

Burfict was in protocol after the game with a head injury, as was cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in your basic Bengals-Steelers slugfest. After Shazier left the field taped to a board after a frightening collision (reports said he had a spinal cord contusion), the Bengals lost cornerbacks Adam Jones (groin) and Darqueze Dennard (knee) and running back Joe Mixon (head/shoulder) during the course of the first half. Jones and Mixon (concussion) was lost for the night and Dennard came back in the second half.

Burfict waved his arm to the crowd to signal he was OK. But the Bengals were not. With Burfict gone, the Bengals were down to three linebackers with middle man Kevin Minter not a good match for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s hottest offense in the NFL.

 After Burfict left, Big Ben just shot-putted the ball into the middle of the field, first to running back Le’Veon Bell, for 18 then to Schuster for 5, then to tight end Jesse James ror 13, then to wide receiver Antonio Brown for the tying touchdown with 3:51 left from six yards out after his 24-yarder on the snap after the penalty. When safety George Iloka was called for hitting Brown in the head, the Bengals were backed  up on the kickoff at their 12.

Then they couldn’t convert a third-and-two when the Steelers rushed three and forced quarterback Andy Dalton to take a coverage sack.

When the Steelers caught the punt at their 42 with 2:42 left Roethlisberger  (24 of 40 for 290 yards, two TDs and a pick) made quick work to set up Boswell’s winner. Twelve yards to wide receiver Martavis Bryant, 11 to Bell amd that was it.

Early in the fourth quarter the Bengals couldn’t get off the field on third-and-10 when Xavier Grimble got about nine and three-quarters on one of those pesky screens and it forced Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his side of the field. Bell smashed for it for ease with nine yards on a night  the NFL's leading rusher had to grind on 18 carries for 76 yards.

Then the Steelers got a  gift when cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was called for his second pass interference penalty of the night when he seemed to simply defend Bryant on a deep ball. That was a 30-yarder and gave the Bengals 133 yards in penalties. They held, but Boswell’s 37-yard field goal cut it 20-13 with 10:07 left in the game.

Then the Bengals offensive line imploded for the only time all night and let linebacker Vince Williams walk in for a 12-yard sack on first drive to blow up that drive and the Steelers officially were in the lead even though they trailed.

 It was a wild third quarter that saw both teams get touchdowns called back by penalty. It looked like the Bengals had gone up by 24-10 on Dalton’s 61-yard TD bomb to Green that Green turned into a wondrous play when he ran away from two tacklers at the Steelers 20. But running back Giovani Bernard was called for holding outside linebacker T.J. Watt rushing Dalton up the middle.

Dalton (a 96.3 rating against a team that holds him 20 points below that) and wide receiver Brandon LaFell saved the drive when Dalton hit him streaking down the right sideline for another third-down conversion, this one for 27 yards on third-and-16.  That made the Bengals 7-for-10 on third-down conversions (that was it because they missed their last four) after they hit just three of 11 in Pittsburgh back in October.

Randy Bullock got back three of the seven points when he hit a 41-yard field goal that made the Bengals lead 20-10 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.

And they literally gave the Steelers’ their first touchdown of the night earlier in the third quarter when Bell (killing them with 106 yards receiving) took a check-down pass, high-stepped down the left sideline and on one of the wackiest plays you’ll ever see, linebacker Jordan Evans and cornerback William Jackson both held up and let him walk in the rest of the way for a 35-yard touchdown.

  As the rain began to fall in the dying but dizzying seconds of the first half, the Bengals couldn’t quite flip the script after  taking a 17-0 lead with 31 seconds left on Dalton’s second third-down touchdown pass of the night to wide receiver A.J. Green.

But suddenly the karma switched off when safety George Iloka missed an interception tipping off shoulder pad. Roethlisberger then hit Bell for Pittsburgh’s longest play of the half on a 33-yard check-down pass aided by at least one missed tackle. Then Big Ben just stepped back and flung it deep for Brown and the NFL’s leading receiver drew a 38-yard pass interference penalty when Kirkpatrick tackled him to prevent a touchdown.

That, unbelievably, allowed Boswell to kick a 30-yarder at the gun to cut Cincinnati ‘s lead to 17-3, marking the 19th time in the last 23 game  the Steelers have scored in the last two minutes of the half against the Bengals. It’s also the sixth time in the last seven games Cincinnati has allowed a field goal in the last two minutes of the half.

It marred a great effort by the Bengals in stoning the NFL’s hottest offense on 126 yards in the half and holding the torrid Big Ben to 50 percent completions of eight of 16 for just 109 yards.

That’s because they had only 24 plays as the Bengals built up a nearly eight-minute edge in time of possession. Dalton hit 16 of 23 for 173 yards and a 120.4 passer rating while they rang up 80 yards rushing on 5.7 per on the way to converting six of eight third downs.

It was a tough break for Mixon, who collided with Vince Williams after picking up eight yards on a screen and left with 34 yards on seven carries. Bernard picked up 35 on six carries once Mixon exited and finished with his season-high 77 yards on 13 carries.

Green, who had seven catches for 77 yards in the half, was blanked in the second half. He kept that last touchdown drive going when Dalton scrambled out of the pocket on third-and-16 and hit Green on a 17-yard come-back route against beleaguered cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. On third-and-11 from the Pittsburgh 15, the Steelers blitzed two corners and with Bernard and right tackle Andre Smith picking it up, Green destroyed Sensabaugh over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown catch. That capped a 15-play drive that consumed 6:13 before it all went to hell.

That was the 52nd career scoring strike for Green and Dalton, passing Kenny Anderson and Isaac Curtis to become the Bengals’ all-time leaders.

The Bengals ran it six times and passed it six times on another grinding 85-yard touchdown drive that took 6:34 off the clock and gave the them a 10-0 lead with 41 seconds left in the first quarter.

 It began with a play-action pass over the middle to wide-open tight end C.J. Uzomah for 21 yards, his fourth catch and longest play of the year. It ended when Green buckled Sensabaugh in one-on-one coverage for a nine-yard touchdown pass on third down. Green faked inside, Sensabaugh fell down, and Green floated to the outside wide open.

In between Mixon got good tread in the running game, busting a 10-yarder running behind fullback Ryan Hewitt out of the I and then taking a handoff out of the shot-gun formation and running past a blitz for nine more. Dalton also gunned a quick third-and-two completion to LaFell to keep the drive going early.

The   Bengals looked like they were going to tack on to the lead after  left end Carlos Dunlap twisted with tackle Geno Atkins and sacked Roethlisberger on third down.

 Then Dalton went play-action out of a heavy formation and hit Green down the middle for 16 yards and Mixon sheared off a draw for 19 yards. But center Russell Bodine was called for holding to blow up the drive.

Dennard blitzed off the slot on the Steelers’ first third down, a third-and-six, and Roethlisberger hurried it across the middle into the arms of Adam Jones for his first interception of the year and then how about this for a script change? Bell mauled Burfict in the helmet as he fell on top of him. Burfict ignored him and ran off the field delighted that Bell was hit for a 15-yard roughing penalty that put Cincinnati on the Steelers 44.

It was a costly play. Jones suffered a groin injury, was done and William Jackson replaced him. That put the  Bengals down to the nub with just three corners with KeiVarae Russell inactive.

After a 19-yard pass to tight end Tyler Kroft down the seam on their first snap of the game, the Bengals stalled. When Shazier collided with Bengals rookie wide receiver Josh Malone on a short pass over the middle, he crumpled to the ground and while he showed movement in his upper body, his lower body appeared motionless. His helmet was taped on a board and carted off the field past stunned players on both teams.

On third-and-two from the Steelers 17, Dalton tried to hit Green on a go route running past cornerback Artie Burns and Green had a step on him, but the ball was overthrown. Bullock then converted a 35-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with four minutes gone in the game.


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