Another loss to Steelers stings Bengals
Bengals fans had seen this movie before, way too many times before.
Defeat pried from the jaws of victory by their division archrivals, by the bane of their very existence, by those awful, dreadful Pittsburgh Steelers.
It happened again Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Host Cincinnati drove 75 yards for a touchdown and the joy of a one-point lead with 1:18 left. Too much time left. History and Pittsburgh saw to that. A key penalty went the Steelers’ way and two plays later there was Antonio Brown running away from the Cincinnati secondary with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with all of 10 seconds remaining.
“We lost,” said Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, all but spitting out the words. “We lost.”
Lost again. It was the Steelers’ seventh straight win over the Bengals. Last season, Cincinnati led 17-0 only to lose 23-20 at PBS. In 2016, Cincinnati led 17-3 only to lose 24-20 at PBS. In 2015, in that infamous wild-card playoff game, Cincinnati came unhinged in the final minutes and lost 18-16 on a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining.
“Can you understand the fans’ frustration?,” Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis was asked Sunday.
“It’s always frustrating to lose games at home, a division game,” replied Lewis, in no mood to reflect. “We don’t get the chance to whine about it.”
It’s more than just a home loss, or a division loss, it’s a loss to the Steelers, the franchise with all those Super Bowl rings, the bully on the AFC North block, the team that whatever the circumstances finds a way to win just as the Bengals find a way to lose.
This time it looked like it might be different. The Bengals entered the game 4-1. Andy Dalton was clicking. Joe Mixon was motoring. Tyler Boyd had formed a dangerous wide receiver duo with A.J. Green. The Steelers, meanwhile, were just 2-2-1 and without star running back/holdout LeVeon Bell.
Cincinnati scored first. Pittsburgh tied it at 7-7. The Steelers took the lead 14-7. Cincinnati drove 44 yards in five plays in just 41 seconds, with Dalton hitting Boyd with a 14-yard touchdown pass 19 seconds before halftime to tie it at 14-14.
Second half, however, the Bengals’ offense stalled. Three possessions, three punts. Cincinnati’s defense held tight, forcing a pair of field goals, the second a 24-yarder by Chris Boswell for a 20-14 Pittsburgh lead with 3:32 left.
At that point, Cincinnati’s offense met the moment. Dalton directed a nine-play, 75-yard march with Mixon scoring from 4 yards out to put the home team in front 21-20. One problem. The clock. There were 78 seconds still on it. All Bengals fans could do was cross their fingers and pray.
That didn’t work. Depleted by injuries, Cincinnati’s defense didn’t meet the moment. Key play: Third-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 41, Kirkpatrick was called for holding, giving the Steelers a fresh set of downs with 22 seconds left. A 23-yard pass from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster put Pittsburgh in field-goal range. Next snap, the streaking Brown snatched a slant pass and drove a knife right into the Bengals’ hearts. Again.
“Big-time AFC North football,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said.
Was the winning play an illegal pick play, as some suggested after seeing the replay? “We lost,” repeated Kirkpatrick. “Doesn’t matter. We lost.”
“It stings, it hurts so bad,” said Boyd, the Bengals receiver who played his college football at Pittsburgh. “It’s like going through a breakup, the feeling you get inside. Especially losing like that. They didn’t come out and just flat-out beat us.”
No, but the Steelers did beat the Bengals again, a streak now seven and counting.
“We’ll be fine,” said Lewis when asked how he pulls his team back together for next Sunday night at Kansas City. “We’ll be ready go to.”
For Bengals fans, that might be a different story.
Bengals at Chiefs
8:20 p.m. Sunday (NBC-18)