PITTSBURGH (AP) – A victory over the Tennessee Titans provided the Cincinnati Bengals with a glimpse of what they can be.
Four quarters against the NFL’s last unbeaten team showed rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and second-year coach Zac Taylor how far they still have to go. Getting pushed around by a longtime nemesis the way the Pittsburgh Steelers pushed around the Bengals in a 36-10 blowout on Sunday will do that.
Unable to generate any momentum on offense and unable to stop Ben Roethlisberger doing what he almost always seems to do when he’s playing Cincinnati brought whatever momentum the Bengals created in their efficient win over the Titans to a stop.
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow completed 21 of 40 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown while absorbing four sacks and Cincinnati went 0 for 13 on third down while falling to the Steelers for the 11th straight time.
“We felt like we shot ourselves in the foot a lot,” Taylor said. “I don’t think any of us were in rhythm. We were off today.”
Taylor understands his team has little wiggle room when playing the Steelers. That doesn’t make watching its chances vanish behind a series of turnovers and missed opportunities any easier. The Bengals (2-6-1) fumbled twice in the first quarter and let Roethlisberger shake off a slow start to pick them apart for four touchdown passes, failing to record a single sack on a day the 38-year-old dropped back to pass 46 times.
“We got some rush on him, (he) got outside the pocket and completed some balls like he does,” Taylor said. “And sometimes the coverage was there and guys were pursuing him outside the pocket and he just made some plays. He did a nice job.”
And Burrow, for all his precociousness, did not. At least not by his own estimation. Save for a 90-yard drive to start the second quarter that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins, Burrow mustered little momentum. Failing to convert a single third down meant Burrow kept trudging to the sideline wondering how things got so sideways so quickly.
“I missed throws,” Burrow said. “That’s all it came down to. You’re not going to be able to win football games against a team like the Steelers as good as they are when your quarterback plays like I did in the second half.”
Burrow was 5 of 15 for 24 yards after halftime as any chance Cincinnati had of pulling off a second straight stunner died amid a flurry of incompletions. The Bengals had 43 yards of total offense on their first five drives to start the second half, all of them ending in punts.
For Cincinnati, it was a reminder of the work that lies ahead. While they were competitive in a pair of losses to Cleveland, when the Bengals have faced AFC North leaders Pittsburgh (9-0) and Baltimore, it’s been a different story. The Ravens drilled them 27-3 and it was much the same against the Steelers.
“We felt good these last couple weeks about the direction we were heading but we’ve got to turn them into wins,” Taylor said. “And you’ve got to beat good football teams on the road ultimately to get to where we want to be. So today was an opportunity to do that and we didn’t get it done.”
The Steelers weren’t exactly crisp early on, but the Bengals failed to take advantage. And when Roethlisberger – forced to spend the week at home as part of the league’s COVID-19 protocols – got it going, Cincinnati couldn’t keep pace. When the Bengals crowded the line of scrimmage to shut down the running game, the Steelers largely abandoned it and let Roethlisberger spread the ball around.
“We’ve got to put this game behind us quite frankly and move on,” Taylor said. “That’s the biggest key because we’ve still got seven games left, a big one next week at Washington. We can’t let Pittsburgh beat us twice.”