Steelers’ slide continues in costly loss to Bengals

  • Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.

It was supposed to be a get-right game against a two-win team, the perfect stage on Monday Night Football to stop a two-game skid and reclaim the AFC North crown for the first time since 2017.

Instead, it was an embarrassment.

Rather than clinching the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped their third straight in a 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals to snap the Steelers’ 11-game win streak against the franchise.

The Steelers entered Monday night’s game as a 14.5-point favorite. With the loss, they matched their largest upset defeat since 1966.

Including the Rams’ loss to the Jets on Sunday, Week 15 marked the fourth time in the Super Bowl era that two underdogs of 14+ points won outright.

Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ 38-year-old quarterback, looked every bit his age in the first half, putting together a two-quarter performance that led to the worst offensive effort of any first half in his 17-season Steelers career.

In addition to setting new lows in pass yards (7) and Yards Per Play (1.4), the Steelers also matched their fewest first downs (2) and most turnovers (3) in a first half with Roethlisberger as their starter en route to a 17-point halftime deficit.

The Bengals took those three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — and turned them into two touchdowns and a field goal.

Instead of relying on short passes, Roethlisberger came out and attempted long and intermediate throws that seemed missing from the offense the last few weeks. But he didn’t have any success pushing the ball down the field, misfiring and underthrowing his receivers.

The drops that plagued his receivers in recent games weren’t the problem. Roethlisberger’s throws just weren’t on the mark.

Roethlisberger failed to complete any of his seven throws of 10+ air yards in the first half, and six of them were broken up or intercepted by Bengals defenders.

For the first time in 20 seasons — including the postseason — the Steelers went 3-and-out on their first five possessions, including two fumbles that led to 10 points for the Bengals. It was the first time since Week 3 of 2017 at the Bears that they lost two fumbles in the first quarter.

The Steelers failed to gain a single first down in the first quarter for the first time since 2018 Week 8 vs the Browns. Their first first down came with just less than 10 minutes to go in the second quarter.

The Steelers started to climb out of the three-score hole in the third quarter as Roethlisberger completed 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown on a 23-yard deep strike to Diontae Johnson — his first completion of 10+ air yards Monday night.

Playing without James Conner, who was ruled out with a quad injury prior to the game Monday, the run game was once again non-existent in the first half. But this time, Benny Snell came alive in the second half with runs of 13 and 29 yards. The 29-yard gain was the longest run by a Steelers’ running back since Week 2 when Conner picked up 59 yards.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

Roethlisberger finished the game completing 20 of 38 attempts for 170 yards with one touchdown and one interception, just enough to give him 60,000 passing yards in his career.

A Bengals offense led by third-string quarterback Ryan Finley wore down a Steelers defense playing with significant injuries to its inside linebackers.

Finley used his legs in a crucial drive spanning the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to score a 23-yard game-sealing touchdown.

Prior to Monday night’s game, the Steelers opined that the stretch of three games in 12 days contributed to their first two losses of the season. They believed this week was a chance to reclaim their signature physicality and finally get a much-needed full week of preparation. Instead, the offense stumbled again, and so too, did the Steelers.

Research from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.

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