COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals’ renewed confidence was battered early and often by the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that showed the Bengals still have much work to do before they can compete with the league’s better teams.
Cincinnati (2-6-1) was riding high after a complete win over Tennessee on Nov. 1, before the bye week. But the Bengals fumbled twice in the first quarter against Pittsburgh (9-0), then watched as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked apart their depleted secondary for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns.
Cincinnati just couldn’t keep up in the 36-10 blowout.
Joe Burrow, the Bengals’ rookie quarterback, had a rough outing against one of the league’s best defenses. He was harassed by the pass rush, hit, sacked four times — twice by T.J. Watt — and outfoxed by Pittsburgh’s secondary. He hurt his ankle when Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree shoved him into the bench.
Burrow, who was 21 for 40 for 213 yards and a touchdown, put the loss squarely on himself.
“I think we’re in that game if I don’t suck in the second half,” Burrow said. “I’m not going to suck a lot. So we’re going to come back to work every day, and I’m excited to go back to practice on Wednesday and start getting the kinks worked out.”
With featured back Joe Mixon (foot) missing a third straight game and the two starting offensive tackles out, Cincinnati again couldn’t get much traction in the run game. That kept most of the pressure on the 23-year-old quarterback.
Burrow said his confidence hasn’t been shaken.
“It’s not demoralizing in the locker room,” he insisted. “We knew we had a chance in that game if I had played better. If we play better in a couple spots, we were in that game to the end. I’m not too down in the dumps because I’m not going to play like that very often.”
As bad as the Bengals were at hemming in the Steelers’ passing game, they were better against the run. Pittsburgh all but abandoned it, and RB James Conner carried 13 times for just 36 yards. It didn’t matter with the way Roethlisberger was throwing.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Same old stuff that shows itself against better teams: The patched-together offensive line couldn’t give Burrow enough time and allowed four sacks. Cincinnati’s hobbled secondary was woeful. The Bengals lost two fumbles.
Rookie WR Tee Higgins has become a reliable option for Burrow. A second-round draft pick from Clemson, Higgins got his second 100-yard game Sunday, grabbing seven passes for 115 yards and a second-quarter touchdown.
The pass rush. Despite the return of DE Sam Hubbard, the Bengals front couldn’t get any sustained pressure on Roethlisberger, which allowed the veteran plenty of time to find his receivers.
Burrow said he “rolled his ankle” when he was pushed out of bounds in the first half, but he stayed in the game until the end. Coach Zac Taylor said Monday the quarterback “should be fine.” … CB Mackensie Alexander left the game with a concussion in the first quarter, and his status for this week is unclear. Losing him was a blow for Cincinnati’s secondary, which already was missing three cornerbacks from injuries/illness. … Mixon is day to day and could return to practice this week.
0: Number of third downs converted in 13 attempts by Cincinnati.
The Bengals have to regroup before traveling to Washington (2-7) to play a much more beatable team. Washington lost to Detroit 30-27 on a 59-yard field goal as time expired on Sunday, despite Alex Smith throwing for 390 yards. Cincinnati still has to face the Steelers and the Ravens again, but its other remaining opponents are less formidable.
“We’ve got to hit the reset button,” Taylor said.