You don’t win a lot of games in which you turn the ball over three times and don’t get the ball back at all. Add in those turnovers, all three of them, coming within your own 40-yard line on top of that, and you can see where the problems might arise.
That’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves last night after giving up the football three times, just in the first half, against the Cincinnati Bengals, which spotted them fantastic field position time and time again. They began three drives at the Steelers’ 20, 38, and 26 off of those turnovers, scoring a net 17 points as a result.
“We turned the ball over in the early portions of the game. You can’t do that. You can’t do that versus anybody”, head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “We gave them the short field in the first half three times in the first half, so it was an uphill battle the rest of the way because of that. They were able to hide the ball a bit because of those circumstances.”
The Bengals only had one possession the entire game—out of 13 meaningful ones—in which they moved the ball at least 40 yards, which is pretty remarkable given that they put up 24 points. Even the Steelers, whose offense was awful, managed three drives of that nature in the game, in fact, with all three going for more than 60 yards.
The Bengals only gained at least one first down on six of their possessions. They punted on seven occasions in which they did not, though on their final possession after a turnover on downs, they were close enough to kick a field goal.
The first turnover in particular was a disaster, a botched center exchange with Ben Roethlisberger not clearly fielding the ball. With David DeCastro pulling, he ended up batting the ball forward for an easy Bengals recovery. Despite getting the ball at the Steelers’ 20, however, the defense held them to a field goal.
They weren’t nearly as successful after JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble two possessions later after he was hit hard almost simultaneously with the catch, jarring the ball loose, or on Roethlisberger’s interception the possession after that.
Both of those turnovers gave Cincinnati the ball inside the Steelers’ 40—first at the 38 and then at the 26—and both ended in touchdowns. The Steelers entered halftime trailing 17-0 in spite of the Bengals netting just 117 yards of offense on eight possessions—an average of under 15 yards per drive.