PITTSBURGH — In the wake of Sunday night's 30-20 loss to the Steelers, the Bengals talked a lot about having their final two games at Paul Brown Stadium, where they are 6-0 and where they believe they can put this season back together.
"They started faster than we did; they had a lot of stuff go their way," said right end Michael Johnson. "No spirits are down over here … we lost a football game. We're going to come back, win two in a row at home and go into these playoffs and wreak havoc."
The Bengals suffered an inordinate number of missed tackles, but defensively they only gave up one touchdown drive while holding the Steelers to three field goals after Antonio Brown's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown made it 21-0 with 1:12 left in the first quarter. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished off the one drive (and that was only 47 yards) with a 12-yard throw to Brown after he had about eight seconds to throw against a two-man rush.
"That was a miscommunication," said Johnson, who indicated more should have been rushing.
JAW-DROPPPING:** It looked like punter Kevin Huber's season was over as Bengals trainer Paul Sparling planned his surgery for what could be as soon as Monday after Huber suffered a fractured jaw on Brown's touchdown. With his jaw wired shut, Huber's teammates were stunned what happened, none more than kicker Mike Nugent.
Nugent, who had just one NFL punt and that was as a rookie in 2005, was pressed into service with two punts for an average of 40 yards Sunday.
"And that was different because that was a field-goal punt," he said of that punt from eight years ago. "It was tough to get a good drop because it was so windy and the ball was moving as you dropped it, so I was trying to kick it out of my hand."
The last time Nugent punted regularly was his junior year at Centerville High School because his senior year current Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk was the punter. The wind turned out to be a factor on the second-biggest play of the game, when Huber dropped the snap of his first punt just outside the goal line about four minutes into the night and gave the Steelers an easy score.
"The way the wind was going, it should have gone to his right, but it went to his left. It hit a weird wall," Nugent said. "One of those fluke things."
But the jaw-breaking hit by linebacker Terence Garvin wasn't a fluke and it's expected he''ll get fined because there should have been a penalty. The NBC crew also said there were two other penalties on the Steelers that should have been called on Brown's return.
"Man, goodness, wow," said cornerback Chris Crocker, when he heard that Huber broke his jaw. "He's such a good kid, a tough kid, good guy. I've seen two of them in my career. Him and Keith Rivers. Wow. It happens in a football game. What can you say?"
The week before Crocker arrived to the Bengals in 2008, Rivers, a linebacker who was Cincinnati's first-round pick, had his jaw broken by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward at PBS. Ward did hs damage on a peelback block as Rivers pursued the ball and got blindsided on a play that was later outlawed by the league. The Huber play was a helmet-to-helmet shot.
SPECIAL LAPSES: The game blew up on three kicks in the first quarter and two of them were immersed in controversy. The one punt that was easy to explain was Huber simply dropping the snap that set up the first touchdown. But eyebrows were raised not only on the no-call on Huber's injury, but on Pittsburgh's short kickoff after it was 7-0. Cedric Peerman waved off Bengals teammate Brandon Tate, grabbed it on the run, and returned it to his 44. But the officials ruled it was a fair catch and put the ball back to the 9.
"They let the play go. I didn't think there was something wrong. I didn't hear a whistle or anything," Peerman said. "It's something I'm not used to doing (calling for a kick). I have to make sure it goes down low."
The fine line of that call juxtaposed to the big shot on Huber was a bit curious. But rookie linebacker Jayson DiManche said they should have made the play on Brown before he took off for the touchdown. DiManche, who leads the team in special teams tackles, had the best shot at him but he didn't break down before Brown made his move.
"We probably overplayed it more than anything and he got inside us," DiManche said. "It was on me. I was head up on him. I played him too much to the outside, and he was able to get inside and make a couple of moves. That's what he does; he got us on that one. I credit him."
The reliable play of the special teams is one of the reasons this team has a shot at the playoffs. So the first quarter meltdown was a shock.
"You can't start slow, especially on special teams," DiManche said. "If the offense and defense comes out slow, we're supposed to make a play on special teams. We have to be better than that."
Peerman, who along with Vinny Rey is the captain of special teams, took responsibility.
"We couldn't do what we were supposed to do," Peerman said. "We were down 14-0 because of (special) teams and that's a reflection on me as a captain."