Updated: 7:40 p.m.
In the end, the Bengals just didn't have enough gas Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and head coach Marvin Lewis let off some steam after his team's grudge match against the Steelers got out of hand during an ugly 21-0 stretch that took less than seven minutes and punctuated the 38-10 loss.
"For whatever reason, we just seemed to dissolve in every area," Lewis said. "Where we had the momentum we had some energy and excitement and then we allowed a negative play to creep in. It got us off schedule and off track, and we were never able to recover."
At 0-7, the day that Rudi Johnson symbolized taking over the AFC North with a late touchdown run at Heinz Field by running over Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu seems so long ago. It was Dec. 4, 2005, and the Bengals are 17-27 since.
The Bengals try to end their 0-7 start where the last one ended in 2002, in Houston next week. With Carson Palmer probably out again, quarteerback Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to the site he led the Rams to a comeback victory off the bench in his 2005 NFL debut.
"I'm angry. It's not good. Its not what professional football is all about," Lewis said. "Every week you have guys get injured, (and other) guys have to come in and play. You've got to respond to that. You've got to understand what your responsibility is, what's going to happen, how are they going to attack, and how we attack. We didn't protect our quarterback worth a darn today. We have a hard time getting the ball up and down (the field) like that."
Chad Ocho Cinco scored on a five-yard toss from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter. (Bengals photo)The Steelers finally emptied the Bengals' tank with two bombs by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a two-minute span of the fourth quarter.
It was a 17-10 game and running back Cedric Benson (52 yards on 14 carries) had just energized the crowd of 65,860 with a 15-yard run with 12:28 left in the game on which he popped Troy Polamalu's helmet off his head and the Steelers Pro Bowl safety left the field as the Bengals took up camp at the Steelers 37.
But as the Steelers can do so quickly, they made it their game. They stoned Benson on the next second down for no gain on the right side and began their streak of ending the first three Bengals' drives of the fourth quarter on one of their seven sacks with linebacker Lawrence Timmons getting past running back Kenny Watson on the way to Fitzpatrick.
(Benson would carry it just one more time, a two-yard loss, but his 52-yard effort on 14 carries should get him another start in place of Chris Perry in Houston next week.)
After they pinned Pittsburgh on the 9, the Bengals let the Steelers get off the ropes out to midfield. Seeing backup cornerback Geoff Pope checking into the game fresh off the practice squad, Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Nate Washington running past Pope for a 50-yard touchdown catch that made it 24-10 with 8:17 left in the game.
"To tell you the truth, that might have been the best deep ball he's ever thrown me," Washington said. "That play was part of our game plan this week. We knew we had an opportunity to throw the pass, and he did a great job of hanging in there and throwing a great ball."
Then after Timmons dumped Fitzpatrick again, Roethlisberger went deep on the first play, this time to wide receiver Hines Ward, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph was called for a 38-yard pass interference penalty and that set up running back Mewelde Moore's two-yard touchdown run with 5:17 left left made it 31-10.
There was more. Fitzpatrick got sacked again, this time by linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and he fumbled it away for the game's only turnover of the day.
"It's hard with that number of sacks to say I felt comfortable dropping back," said Fitzpatrick, victim of the most sacks allowed in the Lewis era. "There were a number of times when I felt very comfortable back there. There were times when I felt too comfortable back there. Because of that, maybe I felt too comfortable and didn't step up as much as I needed to. At the end, they pinned their ears back at the edges. Seven sacks you can't have. The blame falls on everybody."
Joseph had a tough day. Right before Washington's TD, Joseph jumped on a third-and-seven route and tried to make a play but Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes made the catch for 17 yards to keep the drive going.
Then after the Fitzpatrick fumble, Joseph got a hand on a pass at the four-yard line and it still went to Ward for the final touchdown of the day, a 16-yarder on third-and-seven from backup quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Moore finished with 120 yards on 20 carries, the seventh different Steeler to rush for 100 yards against the Bengals since 1992. Roethlisbeger, jacking his PBS record to 6-0 in leading the Steelers to their eighth straight victory, lit it up again with a 108.6 passer rating on 17-of-28 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
"First and foremost, we were controlling the line of scrimmage," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "We were running some of our interior zone plays, and on some of those double-teams, we were getting pretty good pushes, even as we were shooting ourselves in the foot a bit in the first half. I thought we were controlling the line of scrimmage and our hat goes off to the offensive line for what they did today."
Bengals close the gap
After the Steelers punched them with a touchdown on their first series of the second half, the Bengals and Fitzpatrick responded with a 12-play drive that included Fitzpatrick's fourth-and-one sneak and ended on Dave Rayner's first Bengals field goal from 26 yards that cut Pittsburgh's lead to 17-10 with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
Fitzpatrick hooked up with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 19-yard classic T.J. catch-pivot-run on third-and-five. But once the Bengals got inside the 10 on a seven-yard slant to wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, Fitzpatrick couldnt find anybody open.
On second down, he rolled out but Woodley was with him step for step for a three-yard loss and on third down he looked back the other way to the left and Watson was covered in the end zone for an incompletion.
The defense continued to play out of its mind on the next series. On third-and-one, left end Robert Geathers and rookie defensive tackle Pat Sims combined to stop Moore on third-and-one, dropping Pittsburgh's third-down percentage to 3-for-9 on the day.
After the Bengals rallied to cut the Steelers lead to 10-7 at halftime, the season-long trends came back to haunt them on the Steelers' first series of the second half as Pittsburgh got a 13-yard touchdown run from Moore.
A bad punt and two missed tackles in the secondary (one by safety Chinedum Ndukwe spurred Moore's 24-yard run) set up Moore's first touchdown of the season. He was untouched as he followed guard Darnell Stapleton's trap block that enveloped right end Antwan Odom.
But the defense kept giving the Bengals chances. Fitzpatrick stood tall and smart against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau with a 91 passer rating after three quarters (he finished at 81), but the Bengals couldn't keep the Steelers relentless pass rush in check.
Fitzpatrick almost hooked up with Ocho Cinco on a long ball as The Ocho beat cornerback Ike Taylor early in the fourth quarter. But he barely overthrew him as The Ocho dove but his outstretched fingertips could only graze it as he bounced off the goal line.
Bengals strike for six
The Bengals obliterated a brutal half of football with a 92-yard drive that came out of nowhere against the Steelers and cut Pittsburgh's lead to 10-7 when Fitzpatrick threw a five-yard rope to Ocho Cinco and he put his feet down in the right place for his second touchdown of the season.
How about this? The first half ended with Fitzpatrick having a better passer rating (99.1) than Roethlisberger (91.4) on 12-of-18 for 99 yards.
The Bengals offense had reached such new lows in falling behind to the Steelers, 10-0, in the first 28 minutes, that their first first down of the game secured on Benson's four-yard run with 4:49 left in the first half was greeted with a standing ovation.
It sparked their only drive that wasn't three-and-out and featured the tandem of Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Chris Henry hooking up three times for 44 yards. Fitzpatrick also found Ocho Cinco four times while hitting nine of 10 passes for 84 yards. The Ocho had a season-best eight catches, but for just 52 yards.
Setting up in the shotgun, Fitzpatrick had success with quick drops and firing the ball to the perimeter. But two of Henry's grabs were of the spectacular variety. The first one was a 16-yarder over the middle and he held on despite safety Ryan Clark blowing him up. Later he caught an 18-yarder falling out-of-bounds on a ball over his head on a play that held up to replay from the booth in the last two minutes of the half.
Try five three-and-outs, 18 yards on 15 plays, a fumbled pitch for a 15-yard loss and a sack by marauding outside linebacker James Harrison while he made life miserable for Fitzpatrick.
It took the Bengals four series to get a manageable third-down try. The problem was, the third-and-two was from their own 16. Fitzpatrick got flushed from the pocket and thought about running as he took off to his left. He had Watson in the flat but overthrew him as he ran away from pressure.
The fifth series ended in a classic Streelers zone blitz that dumped Fitzpatrick by inside linebacker James Farrior.
But as has happened virtually every week this season, the Bengals defense showed up and kept the proceedings from getting crazy.
After another weak punt put the Steelers at midfield, the Bengals forced a punt of their own when Joseph stopped Moore on a run and a short pass. That was Pittsburgh's third punt and the game was only 20 minutes old.
The Bengals would make the Steelers punt again when they stopped Pittsburgh for the fifth straight time on third down after cornerback Leon Hall came up to dump Moore for a four-yard loss on a second-down run. Moore had just 37 yards on nine carries in the first half.
But Ward didn't waste any time asserting himself on the game's first drive when he caught a 29-yard pass on third-and-seven and then on the next play took out Bengals WILL linebacker Keith Rivers for the rest of the game with one of his notorious blocks that injured Rivers' jaw.
Lewis said after the game that Rivers suffered a broken jaw and will probably be lost for the rest of the season.
To add insult to a jaw injury on the ensuing third-and-13, the Bengals dropped seven into coverage and Roethlisberger still found wide open Holmes for a 32-yard pass that set up Roethlisberger's two-yard touchdown flip to Moore with 9:55 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 Steelers lead.
On the first third-down conversion try, Ndukwe blitzed up the middle and Roethlisberger responded by hitting Ward underneath cutting to the middle. Cornerback David Jones missed the tackle and Ward ran away from everybody else.
Brandon Johnson came off the bench to play in Rivers' spot and came up with a huge stop on the Steelers' second series. On third-and-one at the Steelers 31, Johnson blitzed and forced a punt when he stood up running back Gary Russell.
That was the good news.
The bad news was that the ball went back to the offense. And worse, the Bengals gave it back to special teams for a 15-yard punt that gave the Steelers a first down at the Bengals 30.
The Bengals, leading the NFL in three-and-outs, padded their margin on the first two series. The second one was particularly damaging from their own 22 when on first down they fouled up a reverse as Fitzpatrick and Houshmandzadeh couldn't get together on a fumbled pitch that lost 15 yards.
With the boos beginning to cascade after Fitzpatrick threw behind Watson on third-and-miles, Larson unleashed a roar with the bad punt.
The Bengals defense held the Steelers to Jeff Reed's 21-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the first quarter when Hall knocked away two passes headed to Ward, one in the end zone and one at the goal line.
The defense lapsed on only one play on that short field when Roethlisberger caught the defense flat-footed as he went to roll out before sticking it in Moore's gut as Geathers went flying past. Moore juked inside and went for 16 yards.
PREGAME NOTES: Shayne Graham won't kick for the second week in a row and running back Cedric Benson drew his first Bengals start according to Marvin Lewis' pregame inactive sheet for the Steelers game here at Paul Brown Stadium.
Wide receiver Glenn Holt (ankle) also went down for the Bengals, meaning that rookie receiver Andre Caldwell prepared to make his NFL debut and do it returning kicks.
Safety Dexter Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time since breaking a thumb in the opener and moved to free safety in place of Marvin White and opposite strong safety Chinedum Ndukwe. White, the second-year player out of Texas Christian, has started all six games at free and came up with his first NFL interception last week against Jets quarterback Brett Favre. But the Bengals are apparently seeking more secondary seasoning in an effort to cut down on big plays, particularly on third down.
Graham (groin) said Friday he didn't want to leave his team short if he couldn't kick at 100 percent, so Dave Rayner got the call for the second straight game. This time the duty is a little bit easier because he's had the entire week to work with holder Kyle Larson and long-snapper Brad St. Louis. He kicked two extra points last week against the Jets and had no field-goal tries.
For his career, Rayner is 13-for-19 from both 30-39 yards and 40-49 yards and 1-for-5 from 50 and beyond. He's missed only one of 15 field-goal tries from inside the 30 and missed one of 46 extra-point tries. Three of his field-goal attempts have been blocked.
Caldwell and fellow rookie Jerome Simpson were active for the game while rookie defensive tackle Pat Sims got another shot off his debut last week as John Thornton (Achilles) rejoined Domata Peko in the starting lineup at tackle after missing last week's game.
Also down for the Bengals on Sunday were defensive tackles Orien Harris and Jason Shirley, tight end Ben Utecht, linebacker Corey Mays and cornerback Jamar Fletcher.
Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton was inactive and Max Starks moved in to left tackle to take the place of Marvel Smith. Starks, the son of former Bengal Ross Browner, brought some nostalgia to the day but the Bengals hope they can take advantage of his move to his second position. Starks is seen as more of a right tackle and Bengals right end Antwan Odom should have the edge on him athletically. The Steelers, like the Bengals, have allowed 19 sacks. But Pittsburgh has done it in one less game.
With Utecht down with his chest injury he sustained on the first snap of the Tennessee game in the second game, tight end Nate Lawrie was active two days after being promoted from the practice squad.
Lewis chose to introduce the offense as a unit, wearing black jerseys and white pants, on a sun-splashed, crisp day at PBS where temperatures were expected to reach the mid-60s.
With defensive back Kyries Hebert the special teams captain, the Bengals won the toss, deferred and kicked to the Steelers to open the game.
Ed Hochuli, the beleaguered referee, had the teams lined up on the wrong sides for the kickoff and had to reverse them.