Heading into Monday night, the Bengals were seen as a home underdog to the visiting 9-2 Steelers. A dominant showing from the home team in the first half, however, quickly turned that narrative on its head. Despite injuries to multiple starters, the Bengals ran out to an early lead and held momentum for much of the game.
That didn’t last, unfortunately. After a 10-0 first quarter lead grew to 17-3 at the half, the Bengals offense fell back into a rut. The defense, after several injuries, couldn’t compete well enough to compensate. Adam Jones left the game permanently early on. Darqueze Dennard was taken out slightly after. Vontaze Burfict, after returning from two other injuries to lead the defense, was taken out by a blindside block. With under two minutes left, the Steelers had an easy drive down the field for the winning 38-yard field goal.
It’s a demoralizing loss for the Bengals, albeit of a far different variety than the last matchup against this team. For a unit that looked like the better team for much of the game, it’s a difficult result to stomach. On top of that, at 5-7, the Bengals’ playoff chances (once again) look all but officially forked.
It’s a bitter end for a team that looked to have turned the corner against playoff-caliber competition, especially in a weak AFC field.
Quick Notes from Monday’s Action:
1.) Andy Dalton had a remarkable game under center, completing a high percentage of throws through the first half. He showed incredible timing and accuracy in short area passes, hitting his targets in the hands more often than not. Early on, his completion percentage was muddied by a few scattershot, needless deep attempts. Later on, he was held back by multiple egregious drops from multiple receivers. Dalton, as much as he’s been accused of holding the team back in prime time games, couldn’t have done more.
2.) William Jackson looked like the best man-to-man cornerback on the team tonight. The effectively-rookie cornerback was accountable for multiple pass breakups while in solo coverage against Steelers dynamo Antonio Brown. On a roster with several former first-round picks at the cornerback spot, who’ve been fine, Jackson’s the clear alpha. Dennard, when he was on the field, held up fine in run support from the nickel spot. Kirkpatrick, though he leaves much to be desired in ball skills, is a starting-caliber outside player. Jackson can be the straw that stirs the Bengals’ drink, tying the group together with a bow on top.
3.) The pass protection from the Bengals’ line was a huge positive all game. Dalton was sacked once on a sellout blitz, a second time as a result of coverage. Only one other time all game did he have to throw the ball away to avoid pressure. The run blocking was also huge, opening giant holes for Gio Bernard (who had 96 scrimmage yards on the day). The Browns’ defensive front isn’t as bad as most would expect, but the Steelers’ unit is a known, strong entity. The Bengals offensive line has been certifiably good for two weeks in a row.
4.) Ryan Shazier left the game early, and was promptly delivered to the University of Cincinnati medical center. The linebacker lowered his head attempting to tackle Josh Malone after a short crossing route and suffered a back injury. It was a brutal night for injuries overall, but none felt as singularly heavy as Shazier’s. The severity of his condition, for the moment, remains unknown.
Full Press Coverage will have an update on his condition when information becomes available.