PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton insists there is “no panic” despite how lethargic his team looked in a 30-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
There’s also no playoff berth for the precocious Bengals, at least, not yet.
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Overwhelmed in the first quarter and underwhelming in the fourth, Cincinnati let a chance to potentially clinch the AFC North slip through its frigid fingers.
“There’s no worry about anything,” Dalton said. “We’re not frantic. We still have two games at home and have everything to accomplish, so we’ve got to take care of our business. A lot of good things can happen for us, but we’ve got to play well the next two weeks.”
The Bengals (9-5) certainly didn’t on Sunday night, when their chance to make a statement in prime time instead turned into a comedy of errors. Three special teams mishaps in the first quarter allowed the Steelers (6-8) to bolt to a 21-0 lead and cruise.
“We didn’t make anything happen,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “We didn’t make any plays, create any opportunities.”
It would take a significant collapse for the Bengals not to win the division and reach the playoffs for a third straight season. Still, the momentum they built during a three-game winning streak vanished in 15 forgettable minutes as Pittsburgh delivered on its promise to not mail it in even with the postseason basically out of reach.
“I have said for a bunch of weeks now that there is going to be no quit from me or from anybody,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I thought tonight was a good example of that.”
Five things we learned as the Steelers delayed Cincinnati’s coronation for at least one more week.
CINCINNATI’S SPECIAL TEAMS NEED WORK: The Bengals did what they could to make sure the Steelers had little problem taking control. Punter Kevin Huber mishandled a snap deep in his own territory and was tackled at the Cincinnati 1, setting up a touchdown run by Le’Veon Bell. Things got worse on the ensuing kickoff when up back Cedric Peerman inadvertently called a fair catch at the Cincinnati 9, eventually setting the Steelers up with a short field they turned into another touchdown. Moments later, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown raced 67 yards for a touchdown on a punt return and it was 21-0 before the game was 15 minutes old.
CINCINNATI PROBABLY NEEDS A PUNTER TOO: The embarrassing flub at the goal line wasn’t even the lowlight of Huber’s night. He was the last line of defense on Brown’s punt return but was leveled by Pittsburgh’s Terence Garvin. Huber was motionless on the ground for several minutes before eventually walking to the locker room with a fractured jaw. He did not return. Placekicker Mike Nugent took over the punting duties and averaged 40 yards on his two kicks, neither of which offered any impetus for Nugent to quit his day job.
THE STEELERS AREN’T QUITTING: Roethlisberger sprinted out of the tunnel during pregame introductions and his energy seemed to rub off on his teammates. The quarterback completed his first 13 passes and ended up 20 of 25 for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception while setting a new team record for completions in a season (340).
A.J. GREEN IS MORTAL (KIND OF): Cincinnati’s dynamic wide receiver had nine receptions for 93 yards, a productive night but hardly game-changing. His longest reception was just 19 yards on a night the Bengals managed 272 yards of total offense, nearly 100 below their average coming in.
IT WAS COLD AND HEINZ WAS EMPTY: With the Steelers facing the possibility of the franchise’s first losing season in a decade and a gametime temperature of 26 degrees and a 12-degree wind chill, there were large swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field. While the Steelers continued a sellout streak that stretches back to 1972, only 45,873 actually made it inside the stadium. It was the smallest crowd at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001, and there were likely only 20,000 still standing when the final gun went off.