The big news as we head into the game is that wide receiver Antonio Brown is active for the team tonight. But I would say it’s quite notable that they also elected to activate Justin Hunter as the sixth wide receiver, suggesting that they believe insurance may be necessary. Brown reportedly only warmed up at half speed and did not appear fully comfortable, so it would not surprise me if he struggles and is limited.
Also inactive among the notables are safety Mike Mitchell and Vance McDonald, both of whom have been missing time lately. Jerald Hawkins is again active over Matt Feiler while Marcus Gilbert is serving his suspension. Joe Haden is of course inactive. So is James Harrison.
For the Bengals, they have safety Shawn Williams down again, as is linebacker Nick Vigil, and backup Vincent Rey. First-round wide receiver John Ross continues to be a healthy scratch.
The Bengals won the coin toss and chose to defer. Martavis Bryant remained back to return kicks as he did last week, but the first kick went for a touchback. Opening in heavy personnel, with Roosevelt Nix lined up on the line of scrimmage, next to Jerald Hawkins, the former was flagged for a false start to begin the game.
Le’Veon Bell got the penalty yardage back plus a yard on first down to make it second and nine. Ben Roethlisberger went back-shoulder to Antonio Brown on the play working against Adam Jones for about 20.
At the 45, again out of heavy, Bell got about three to four. Off play action, Roethlisberger couldn’t immediately find somebody to throw to and ultimately saw the ball slip out of his hand trying to pull it down. Now third and seven, Roethlisberger threw an interception to Jones under pressure. Vontaze Burfict drew an unnecessary roughness penalty against Bell.
The Bengals now quickly at the Steelers’ 44, Andy Dalton went down the seam to Tyler Kroft for 19, Robert Golden laying a hit at the end, but complete. To the 25, Giovani Bernard went up the middle for five. Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams combined to tackle the receiver underneath on a shallow cross, but Shazier remained on the field, holding his back. They brought a board out for him to stretcher him off after appearing to suffer what could be a very serious injury.
As the Steelers try to resume a football game after being dealt such an emotional blow, mixed with vast uncertainty, Dalton took a shot into the end zone for A.J. Green, out of bounds, covered by Artie Burns. The Bengals converted for a field goal, however, to add points off of the turnover.
The offense resumes from the 25 after another touchback. Bell was lucky to pick up two on first down. Roethlisberger threw across his body after flushing to his right, finding Brown in a tight window over the middle for about 11.
Connecting with JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle for eight, Roethlisberger used up all the clock prior to the next play, connecting with Brown again, making a one-handed catch down to the other side at the 45.
On the next play, it was Bryant taking a short pass on the left side. He was able to break a couple of tackles, but with three defenders there, he was held to just a few yards. Now second down, Roethlisberger’s pass was short and off-target, looking dangerous for another possible interception looking for Brown on a corner route. On third and seven, Roethlisberger’s pass was batted at the line, incomplete.
Following a punt, the Bengals quickly got out with a good gain to C.J. Uzomah. After a short four-yarder, Joe Mixon was limited to two. A quick pass to Brandon LaFell in front of Coty Sensabaugh to the sideline won a first down.
Across midfield, Dalton threw to rookie Josh Malone for seven to the left side. Mixon one-cut up the middle for a good gain, but a sound tackle by Tyler Matakevich, holding on, prevented him from breaking out for an explosive run. To the 33, on a draw, he added nine. He got the first off the right side on second down. For some reason Dalton kept the ball following Alex Erickson for about 11, setting up first and goal.
At the nine, Dalton fired a bullet over the middle looking for Green, but he was double-covered and had no chance. Now second down, Mixon was bottled up at the line with Mike Hilton making the tackle coming off the right edge. On third and long with goal to go, the Steelers blew coverage as Dalton found Green wide open in the front right corner of the end zone to take a 10-0 lead. It looks like Green just shoved Sensabaugh out of the way, stumbling in the opposite direction.
With Jones out for the Bengals, Roethlisberger threw to Bryant one-on-one with Kirkpatrick, complete for 15. To the 40, Bell was able to pick up five. Bryant was unable to go up and get a deep pass down the field on second down, the ball seemingly going through his hands. On third and five, Roethlisberger was sacked.
Following a punt, the Bengals were able to hit on a couple of plays down to the 38 before Mixon was able to break out a bit of a run, but Matakevich was held at the line of scrimmage. As a result, the Steelers were able to get off the field, Eli Rogers calling for a fair catch just inside his 20. Sensabaugh was responsible for a pass defensed on third down.
From the 18, an attempted screen to Bell resulted in an incompletion with Carlos Dunlap tipping the ball at the line of scrimmage. Bell was held to two on second down. Roethlisberger found Bryant, however, for the first down.
Bell fought for four yards on first down. After another four-yard gain, Roethlisberger was hoping to find Brown over the middle, but the two were not on the same page, incomplete, and yet another punt for the Steelers offense. Jordan Berry’s punt sailed out of bounds inside the 20.
During the last drive, the Bengals also suffered an injury to Darqueze Dennard, after already losing Jones for the game. Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III will have to continue to start, with presumably Josh Shaw in the slot.
On the first play of the Bengals’ drive, a screen to Mixon ended in a big collision, with Williams and Sean Davis providing the crunch. Mixon remained down. Dalton completed to Green for a first on a short pass on the following play.
After a nine-yard gain, Dalton looked deep, incomplete. On the play, Green was flagged for a facemask penalty against Burns, making it second and 16 at the 30. A long pass intended for Tyler Boyd, wide, was incomplete. Now third and 16, Dalton immediately rolled to his right and found Green at the sideline in front of Sensabaugh to convert, only the Steelers’ fourth conversion allowed on third and 10-plus on 51 tries.
An illegal shift on second and one negated a first down. A deep shot with Matakevich on the blitz was long and incomplete. Now third and seven, Dalton completed to Boyd in front of Davis across the middle of the field.
A deep ball to Green was incomplete, with Sensabaugh ending up on the ground again. Green is physically abusing Sensabaugh so far in this game, and I’m not sure it’s been all legal. Bernard skipped through the middle for seven, near the two-minute warning. They stuck with Bernard on third and three, converting.
With under 1:20 to play, Dalton hit Green at the first-down marker. With just 31 seconds left, Dalton beat a two-player blitz to find Green at the goal line, spinning inside for the touchdown as the Steelers drop 17-0 in the first half.
Roethlisberger’s first pass attempt, down the field to Brown, was incomplete, Brown taking a bit hit from George Iloka. Bell was able to pick up a sizable gain, 33 yards to the middle of the field, on a screen with 11 seconds remaining. At the 50, Roethlisberger, Brown dress a pass interference penalty about 40 yards down the field covering Brown, who may well have come down with the catch and even scored without the interference. Chris Boswell gave the Steelers their first points of the game with a field goal, making it 17-3 heading into the second half.