The Pittsburgh Steelers spent most of the first half playing lethargic football after experiencing emotional trauma, seeing one of their star players, Ryan Shazier, suffer a serious injury that finds him currently in a trauma center being evaluated for what the team announced as a ‘back injury’, but could be more. They trail 17-3, down two full touchdowns.
The game began with Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception to Adam Jones on third and long. The cornerback was injured on the play and left the game. But A.J. Green has been abusing Coty Sensabaugh most of the night, scoring two touchdowns against him. Joe Mixon was running well before leaving the game, but Giovani Bernard picked up where he left off. Mixon was ruled out at halftime with a concussion.
The Bengals opened the half with a touchback. Andy Dalton’s first pass, looking for Green, was incomplete, with rookie Cameron Sutton, who evidently replaced Sensabaugh. Following an eight-yard run from Bernard, Dalton’s pass looking for a screen was overthrown as he felt the pressure, Sean Davis on the blitz. Key three-and-out to start the half. The ensuing punt was downed at the 17, but a penalty on the Bengals were penalized for a player not trying to re-establish himself inbounds. The Steelers added five yards at the end of the kick instead of opting for a re-kick.
From the 22, Ben Roethlisberger handed off to Le’Veon Bell, who picked up a first down and more for 16, following Maurkice Pouncey around right end. “He must have one heck of a coach–oh, he does, Mike Munchak”, said Jon Gruden.
Bell was limited to a short gain on the following play, however. On second and nine, he added five off right end. On third and four, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown bailed the Steelers out with a nice connection in traffic, Dre Kirkpatrick’s swat just late.
Following a two-yard gain up the middle, Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers added a handful. Burfict injured his arm on the play, setting up third and four. Roethlisberger used play action to keep the ball, sliding for the first.
From the 35, Roethlisberger looked for a deep strike to Brown, but William Jackson III did a phenomenal job of ripping the ball out right at the end. On the following play, however, Roethlisberger checked the ball down to Bell and slipped right into the end zone. Some seemed to assume he was out of bounds, but the replay shows he was not. JuJu Smith-Schuster pinned the back down for the three-count in celebration, and it’s suddenly a 17-10 game courtesy of Chris Boswell’s extra point make.
It looked like the Steelers were beaten on another long touchdown, this to Green, but T.J. Watt was held by the back on the play, dodging a major bullet. Cameron Heyward batted the second-and-16 pass down to set up third and very long. From the 33, Dalton, however, completed to Brandon LaFell, the Bengals’ second big conversion on third and extra long of the game.
Bernard then plowed through the middle of the defense for 10 yards. After a gain of one, and then three, William Gay made a great tackle to keep Boyd short of the first, as the Bengals were held to a field goal, making it 20-10 in the waning minutes of the third quarter, a two-possession game. Martavis Bryant looked to have a touchdown on the ensuing kick return, but it was called back by a hold on J.J. Wilcox.
Set up starting at the 16 after the penalty, James Conner checked in an punched his way for about 10 to 12. A facemask on the safety added another 15. Conner remained in the game and got the carry again, picking up another five. Again getting the ball, this time he was blasted for a loss by Burfict, a nice play from Public Enemy Number One. Now third and eight, Eli Rogers was flagged for a false start after a Bengals timeout. After the penalty, with three receivers to the left, Roethlisberger stepped out of pressure looking for Rogers, incomplete, but there was a hold anyway on Villanueva. The Steelers have to punt with 1:21 remaining in the third, trailing by 10. After a good punt, Brian Allen made the tackle to keep the Bengals inside their own 15.
From the 13, Dalton hit Green for about 15, but he failed to hold on to the ball, Artie Burns and Fort on the tackle. Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling on the field, believing the pass was completed and then stripped for a fumble. He lost the challenge, and a timeout. Now on second down, Bernard broke a tackle or two over the middle for 13 on an inside handoff. The run defense has been really ugly on the night.
Now at the 25.5, he squeaked ahead to the 30 to end the third quarter. A quick slant to LaFell was incomplete targeting Mike Hilton to set up third and six. The Steelers missed the sack twice on the following play, first by Bud Dupree and then by Stephon Tuitt, refusing the finish the play, but at least it still ended up in an incompletion, the ball thrown away. The punt was fielded inside the 10 but returned past the 25; however, a penalty on Allen made it half the distance to the goal.
At the seven, Bell began the drive with a run off left end for five. Roethlisberger, standing in the pocket, eventually found Brown for I think his first catch of the second half, taking a hit from Carlos Dunlap, did the quarterback. At the 27, he tried the back shoulder to Brown against Jackson, incomplete, with good coverage. Following an incompletion, max protect, the Steelers set up a screen for Xavier Grimble, who was able to pick up nine. Roethlisberger took a shot from Carl Lawson, drilled into the ground and hurt on the play, but up and about. On fourth and inches, Bell plowed over the defense for the conversion and a bit extra, putting Kirkpatrick on his back. Burfict was again injured on the play, another seeming arm injury, though I’m not sure if it was the same arm.
Looking for the screen to Brown, they could not get the blocking in front limiting it to three yards. Roethlisberger took a deep shot to Bryant, incomplete with Kirkpatrick in coverage down the right sideline, but a flag on pass interference on Kirkpatrick put the ball on the 21.
A bubble screen to Smith-Schuster was held to two yards as Burfict checks back in. Brown dropped a quick slant that would have set up first and goal. Roethlisberger’s pass was uncatchable to Smith-Schuster, as he was tackled in the end zone, and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal to make it 20-13, a one-possession game.
Vince William got home on a blitz for the sack, his seventh of the season, to open the Bengals’ drive. Following a false start, making it second and 23, at the eight, LaFell could not hang on to the pass over the middle to set up third and 23. They have completed two third and extra longs, but not this long. The screen picked up a bunch of yards, but was still well short as the Steelers should get the ball back with about eight minutes left trailing seven.
Thanks to another special teams penalty by J.J. Wilcox, the Steelers continued their self-inflicted wounds. They should have started the drive from the 32, but instead start deep in their own end, again.
From the 20, Bell picked up five. Off play action, Roethlisberger under pressure threw the ball away, but the Bengals still managed to hit him, Geno Atkins roughing the passer, truly a foolish penalty. Free 15 yards. The Bengals have 153 yards in penalties in the game now, the most in franchise history.
Grimble nearly made a fantastic downfield vertical catch over his shoulder with one hand on the following play. From the 40, Roethlisberger dumped off to Bell for 12, with Smith-Schuster levelling Burfict on a block, the linebacker staying down, but his block drew a penalty, his fifth blocking penalty on the season. He was also flagged for taunting, the penalty that was accepted. Burfict ended up being carted off the field.
Now second and 16 from the 34, Roethlisberger was able to find Brown all the way down to the Benagls’ 42 to kickstart the drive, and the offense. Now dumping off to Bell, he picked up the first and more, crashing into defenders down to the 23 or so, nearly 20 yards on minimal effort.
At the 24, Roethlisberger connected with the rookie receiver for five heading inside. On second and five now inside the red zone, Brown dropped his second pass of the game, even if the pass was behind him. He found Jesse James for his first catch of the night, over the middle, with Smith-Schuster providing a block to help the tight end get down to the six.
Now first and goal, Roethlisberger quickly found Brown for the six-yard touchdown, his eighth reception of the game for 101 yards and a score, in a game in which he was questionable to play. The game is now tied at 20 with about 3:30 to play. Brown was hit in the head at the end of the play.
The Bengals started their drive, from the 12, with a drop by Green, but Bernard picked up eight on second down. Now third and two, on a three-man rush, Dalton had nobody to throw to and Dupree eventually got home for the sack, a coverage sack, but it forced a punt, and the Steelers will have about two and a half minutes to lead a go-ahead drive.
Rogers called for a fair catch at his own 41-yard line, giving the Steelers great field position on a drive on which they hope to take their first lead of the game. Bell picked up nine on first down and three on second down across midfield as we hit the two-minute warning.
Approaching field goal range, at the 47, Roethlisberger connected with Bryant for a first down to the 35, now in deep field goal territory and plenty of time left. Roethlisberger found Bell this time, picking up a first down inbounds and basically tackling the tackler.
At the 24, however, Carl Lawson blitzed and tackled Bell in the backfield for a loss of a few. The Bengals used their second timeout, leaving 37 seconds on the clock in advance of second and 13 at the 27. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster on a quick pass, still inbounds, for a short gain to set up third and long. The Steelers used a timeout now with 26 seconds remaining ahead of the key third down. Bell simply ran to put the ball where Boswell is most comfortable, setting him up for yet another chance for a game-winning field goal, the third time in four weeks.
An offisde penalty made the kick five yards closer, now a 38-yard attempt. Boswell was good, yet again, winning the game 23-20. The Steelers have, for the most part, been winning ugly, but the key is that they have been winning.