Dre Kirkpatrick had a huge pick Sunday at the end of the first half.
PITTSBURGH - If you're head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, you'd take Sunday's stat sheet in any game against the Steelers.
Hold Antonio Brown to four catches for 39 yards, a four-year low working with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Hold DeAngelo Williams to less than three yards per on 32 lugs. Hold Roethlisberger to a 78.5 passer rating with two interceptions.
"I thought for the most part we played well," said cornerback Adam Jones. "I tip my hat to Ben and those guys. They were one play better than us today."
The 24-16 loss at Heinz Field came courtesy of a field position thumping and a struggling offense that could muster just four first downs on 16 third-down conversions and no touchdowns on three red-zone trips. Certainly don't look at the starting cornerbacks, Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, who each had an interception and a hand in shutting down Brown.
"How many plays did we have?" Jones asked. "That's another question. 74? Wooow. That's a lot of plays. .All we have to do is have the guys in this locker room stick together. At the end of the day this is going to be a special l group. I promise you that. We'll take this on the chin and keep working. We'll get better from it."
The game plan on Brown, the 1,800-yard machine? Kirkpatrick said it was challenging Brown in press coverage.
"I've got to say something about our safeties," Kirkpatrick said. "They put us in great position."
A Sunday morning phone call from Tish Jones, Adam's wife, also may have helped.
"This morning my wife called with Scripture and told me to do what I can do and let the good Lord handle the rest of it," Jones said. "Clearly I'm content. Write what you want to write."
It will be recalled that Jones was at the center of the wild final 1:23 of the Wild Card game against the Steelers. His personal foul, hotly debated from the Bengals' side, gave the Steelers a chip-shot field goal to win it. On Sunday, Jones was nowhere near a personal foul in a game with just two personal fouls and ran off the field at the end of the game with no mingling with the Steelers.
"My tolerance for B.S. is this big," said Jones, holding up a very small gap between his thumb and index finger. "If I remove myself from the situation, I don't have to worry about it."
The problem is they couldn't remove Roethlisberger from the situation. As he always does he made his coaches look good by bailing them out of loads of trouble. He completed just 19 of 37 passes and tried to force feed it to Brown on 11 targets. But when he had to, he threw lovely balls to guys you may have not heard of, such as tight ends Jesse James and Xavier Grimble and wide receiver Sammie Coates.
It was a long ball to Coates that Kirkpatrick turned into a leaping interception with 48 seconds left in the first half for the Bengals' best field position of the day and the offense turned it into a huge last play field-goal that cut the Steelers' lead to 10-6.
"My Dad asked me coming in to today what I thought of Ben," Kirkpatrick said. "I still feel like he's one of the best quarterbacks ever for the way he makes plays. The way he creates and still keeps plays alive. You don't really see that."
Now slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard has. Dennard got fried twice by Coates, one on a 44-yarder where Ben does what Ben does. He made the snap play out longer than the 21st century after spinning away from defensive lineman Margus Hunt and when he saw Coates run away from Dennard he floated it to him.
That set up the first TD. The second TD came one snap after Dennard let Coates get behind him for a 53-yarder. In his first game back since blowing out his shoulder Nov. 22, Dennard offered no excuses about rust.
"I have to take accountability of the long balls. You can't have them and they scored both times," Dennard said. "I have to play up to the caliber of the guys."
Here's how good of a ball Roethlisberger threw on the 53-yarder.
"When I saw the ball, I thought I would pick it off," Dennard said. "But the ball was sailing to the left side. The ball was thrown away from me and I was just going for the PBU."
While they battled in the back end, the trenches did what they had to do against Pittsburgh and stood up to the run well enough. Nose tackle Domata Peko had a terrific game against Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers' estimable center, with five tackles, and linebacker Karlos Dansby had two tackles for loss.
"I thought we got after them with our front seven," Peko said. "There were a couple of runs here and there, but for the most part we held our own. When you get three in the red one and they get seven, it's tough to win. It's early. It hurts because it's the Steelers, but you can't get too down on yourself. We'll be fine."
"I," said Jones, "can't wait until we play them again."
Peko was already looking forward to that.
"Then we'll have back 55 and 85," said Peko, the numbers of the missing Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Eifert.