Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow shook off a career-high four interceptions and appeared to lead the Bengals to an improbable victory twice, once in regulation and once in overtime, but two missed kicks cost them in a heartbreaking 23-20 Opening Day loss to the Steelers before the drained 65,841 at Paycor Stadium.
With wide receiver Tee Higgins (concussion) out in the second half and wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon limping off the field on the first series of overtime (they would come back), Burrow hit tight end Hayden Hurst for a 20-yard gain that put the Bengals on the Steelers 13 with just four minutes left in the OT.
On third-and-eight Bengals head coach Zac Taylor opted to go for Evan McPherson's 29-yard field goal to win it even though he didn't have long snapper Clark Harris (bicep) and he went to backup tight end Mitchell Wilcox. After the new combo saw the winning extra point blocked at the end of regulation, Taylor went for it on third down in case there was a bad snap, giving them another shot on fourth down.
But this snap was high and McPherson yanked it left. When the Steelers' Chris Boswell followed it up by clanking a 55-yarder off the left upright, Burrow (33 of 53 for 338 yards) unbelievably had another chance.
He transformed a sack into a nine-yard gain and they were in field goal range at the Steelers 38, but Pittsburgh sacked him for the seventh time when cornerback Arthur Maulet blitzed and Burrow fumbled near midfield and they had to punt with 1:04 left.
Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky (21 of 38 for 194 yards and no mistakes), used a Bengals offsides penalty, then dunk and dove it quickly down the field to get Boswell's winning 53-yarder as time ran out.
Burrow, who ended regulation with 286 yards on 28 of 46 passing, forced a 20-20 tie with an unbelievable 60-yard touchdown drive on nine plays in 1:25 and got the touchdown on the last play of regulation when he shoved a six-yarder to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (10 catches for 129 yards) at the front pylon with two seconds left.
That capped a massive drive for Chase, who had two catches for 23 yards before the TD. But the Bengals didn't have Harris, the snapper with a 202-game Bengals skein without an unplayable snap. He hurt his bicep earlier and they had to turn to Wilcox to long snap. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick took advantage of the new operation to block what would have been the winning extra point and send it to overtime
As they did all day the defense (allowing just 267 yards in five quarters) ruled the first series of OT, forced a three-and-out and got the ball back for Burrow.
It took the Bengals just 7:43 into the season to set two franchise records on the same snap. Appearing in his 208th game, punter Kevin Huber held for McPherson's 59-yard missile that cut Pittsburgh's lead to 7-3 on one of Harris' last snaps.
Buoyed by a huge defensive stand on the first series of the second half featuring edge Sam Hubbard very nearly wrapping up Turbuisky for a safety, the Bengals cut it to 17-14 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
The regrouping Burrow bounced off the deck from his fifth sack, ran up in the pocket on the next play and hit Chase over the middle for 24, a bunch after the catch. Then when the Steelers blitzed from their 2, Burrow beat it hitting his first touchdown pass of the year to Boyd outrunning cornerback Cameron Sutton. Then with Higgins out, Burrow hooked up with Michael Thomas on the two-pointer when Burrow hung up a beauty. He had time to wait for Thomas to get loose and come back to him on the left sideline.
The score came courtesy of a hellacious Bengals defense. As the game rolled into the fourth quarter, the Bengals had allowed Pittsburgh just 138 yards, holding them to two of eight on third down. Running back Najee Harris had just 12 yards on seven carries. The vaunted Pittsburgh running game finished with just 75 yards on 22 carries, 36 from wide receiver Chase Claypool.
But when they were backed up, the Bengals offense took a killing three-and-out. Linebacker Alex Highsmith came up with his third sack of the day at the Bengals 5 to blow up the drive.
Huber got off a good 50-yard punt, but the Bengals couldn't get off their blocks on a 20-yard return.
The defense (with rookie safety Dax Hill checking in on occasional third downs) answered yet again and forced Boswell's 48-yard field to make 20-14, Steelers, as cornerback Chidobe Awuize had a nice pass defensed on wide receiver Diontae Johnson at the Bengals 5.
But Burrow threw his fourth interception of the day with 11 minutes left in the game. It came after his third down pass was broken up when Cam Heyward backed rookie left guard Cordell Volson into Burrow. On fourth-and-six, Burrow went for Boyd over the middle, but he suddenly became double teamed when cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon read Burrow's eyes for the pick.
In the season's first 25 minutes the Bengals offense committed four turnovers for the first time in a half in nine years. They came on the first five series. Three of those were Burrow interceptions (he also lost a fumble), tying his career high and a stunning development for guy that threw just two interceptions in the final eight games last season. Burrow, like all but one of the Bengals starters, was playing in a game for the first time in 2022 and although they managed to outgain Pittsburgh, 160-108 in the half, they also allowed four sacks.
Burrow tried to kick the rust off in a half he was 11 of 17 for 109 yards. Mixon racked up 67 yards on 15 carries, 31 coming on a fourth-and-one bolt (behind crushing blocks by right guard Alex Cappa and tight end Drew Sample) that put them in the red zone for the first time all day on the Steelers 4 with 1:09 left. Mixon finished with 82 yards on 27 carries.
But with Higgins sidelined with a concussion, the Bengals couldn't get the touchdown and had to settle for McPherson's chip shot field goal that made it 17-6. Burrow tried to hit Hurst but overthrew him in the end zone. A false start on Volson pushed them back five yards, but Burrow made a nice feathery throw to Chase in the end zone. Working against cornerback Levi Wallace, Chase couldn't hold on as he tried to drag that second foot inbounds.
The Bengals offense went empty on the first snap of the season, and Burrow pumped twice and with nobody open he got sacked by the future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Heyward.
Then on second-and 15 Burrow appeared to force a shot at Boyd and as it hung in the air Fitzpatrick came flying up in front of Boyd and took it 31 yards for a pick-six
The only thing Heyward hadn't done in a decade against the Bengals was get an interception and he almost got that. On Pittsburgh's third series, linebacker Alex Highsmith got the second of the Steelers three first-quarter sacks when he wooshed past left tackle Jonah Williams, hit Burrow's arm and the ball popped into Heyward's arms at the Bengals 43.
On the next snap the Steelers ran the flea-flicker for their only decent offensive play of the first quarter, Trubisky's 31-yard loft to tight end Pat Freiermuth. The defense again held on third down with Trey Hendrickson coming fast off the edge and strong safety Vonn Bell was glued to Freirmuth to force a Boswell field goal that made it 10-3.
The turnovers kept coming with the Bengals offense trying to get something going with Mixon running and Burrow getting the ball out of hand quickly and Chase getting yards after catch.
But T.J. Watt, working against right tackle La'el Collins, almost beat Mixon to the handoff before dropping him for a five-yard loss. Then on the next snap Watt leaped in the air and plucked it barely after Burrow let it go.
That translated to a 59-yard Steelers touchdown drive as Trubisky finaly got offensive coordinator Matt Canada's misdirection motion offense in gear. On the drive's big play, a 32-yard run-and-catch by tight end Zach Gentry, Trubisky shot-putted it all of three yards. Also aiding the Steelers was Awuzie's third-down pass interference penalty on rookie wide receiver George Pickens in the end zone.
The third interception came just after Higgins went off the field when Burrow went deep down the seam to Boyd. But it was thrown at Boyd's hip and cornerback Cameron Sutton was able to pick it off.