The Bengals held on for a 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night in Cincinnati in a game that felt like it should not have been that close.
The Steelers were still in the game late in the fourth quarter until Bengals safety Reggie Nelson intercepted a tipped pass thrown by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deep in Cincinnati territory.
Early on, it seemed as if the Bengals (1-1) were sleepwalking through the game with quarterback Andy Dalton looking nervous and inaccurate. His passes were high and uncatchable, including two in which 6’6” tight end Tyler Eifert was the target. The Bengals defense though was able to hold the Steelers (0-2) in check.
A change occurred late in the first quarter when Giovani Bernard was inserted into the offense, his first carry resulting in eight yards. The run got the crowd back in the game and seemed to help Dalton relax.
Following a 61-yard completion from Dalton to Eifert, Bernard scampered seven yards for a Bengals touchdown.
In the third quarter, Bernard continued to make the inconsistent Dalton look good by taking a screen pass 27 yards for Cincinnati’s only other touchdown of the game. Bernard’s quickness allowed him to jog into the endzone untouched.
The defense played reasonably well, creating two turnovers, holding Pittsburgh to 44 yards rushing and sacking the Steelers’ quarterback twice.
But it was somewhat of a disappointment for Cincinnati fans who had expected to handle their AFC North rivals. While on paper the Bengals formidable front four should have been able to rattle Roethlisberger, he held his own and turned in a valiant effort.
Pittsburgh was without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, lost for the year with a major knee injury. They were forced to start Fernando Velasco against one of the league’s best defensive tackles, Geno Atkins, and former Steeler and Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison. However, Roethlisberger made a number of spectacular plays, including one in which he decided not to hand off to his running back as he saw two Bengals defenders closing in for the tackle. Instead, he kept the ball and picked up six yards.
Roethlisberger escaped Cincinnati pressure on a numerous occasions during the game, looking particularly impressive on a drive near the end of the first half where he completed all four of his passes for 65 yards and a touchdown.
It was a reversal of fortune for a Pittsburgh team that had won 10 of its previous 11 games in Cincinnati.
The Steelers have much to figure out if they want to make the playoffs this year. At the same time, the Bengals should not be overly optimistic after the win.
Dalton’s early mistakes could have cost Cincinnati the game had they been facing a team more complete than Pittsburgh. But there were a lot of promising signs that could indicate improvement is on the horizon. Much depends on offensive coordinator Jay Gruden figuring out how to get the most out of his players. If he is successful in that regard, the Bengals will be able to score more consistently.