Bengals dismal in home opener


CINCINNATI – Was this the same Bengals team that was one pass away from winning the Super Bowl seven months ago?

By all reports and offseason moves and hype, it was supposed to be better.

But Sunday’s home opener at Paycor Stadium in front of 65,841 fans saw Cincinnati stumble, bumble, and fall to Pittsburgh 23-20 in overtime.

Quarterback Joe Burrow was dismal with a career-high four interceptions, including a pick-six on the second play from scrimmage, and one lost fumble.

The 2021 Comeback Player of the Year was sacked seven times, and was chased out of the pocket most of the game.

Overall, he finished with 338 yards in the air — and completed 33 of 53 attempts and a touchdown.

Burrow did lead a comeback drive and tossed a six-yard TD to Ja’Marr Chase at the end of regulation to tie the game 20-20.

Normally-consistent Evan McPherson had his extra-point kick blocked due in part because long snapper Clark Harris was injured during the game and replaced by emergency snapper Mitchell Wilcox.

The snap was slow, looped and gave time for Steelers safety Minka Fitzpatrick to get a hand on the ball.

“It’s very frustrating,” Burrow said after the loss. “But I had faith that we’d come back. I’m proud of the way we played in the second half. We came back strong and put ourselves in position to win the game.”

In overtime, Cincinnati had another chance to win the game with a 29-yard field-goal attempt, but McPherson’s kick was yanked to the left after a high snap from Wilcox that did not allow holder Kevin Huber to rotate the ball.

As a result, McPherson kicked the laces and the ball sailed left.

“We had a chance on the first one … it just got blocked,” Wilcox said. “On the second one, it’s on me. I’ve got to give Kevin (Huber) a better snap there. That’s on me.”

McPherson said the missed FG was his fault alone.

“At the end of the day, I just couldn’t get it done,” he said. “Twenty-nine yards is 29 yards. I can hit that with my left foot so there’s really no excuse for me to not make that one.”

Harris injured his bicep and did not return to the game.

He is questionable for next week.

“You always hate it when a teammate goes down, especially when it’s a valuable member of your team like Clark,” McPherson said. “But honestly, I had full trust in (Mitchell) Wilcox. There was no reason to miss anything. I put everything on me. I’ll grow from it, learn, and move on.”

Sunday’s game resembled the Oct. 10, 2021 loss to Green Bay, when both kickers missed five field goals in two minutes.

In the end, the Packers won 25-22 in OT.

The Steelers had a chance at victory early in the overtime period, but Chris Boswell’s attempt clanked off the left upright.

He later converted on a 53-yarder for the win.

“I was definitely up and down … roller-coaster game, that’s for sure.” Burrow added.

The Steeler defense confused Burrow most of the game and sacked him seven times.

Last season, he was sacked a total of 70 times (51 in the regular season and 19 times in the playoff run.)

The Bengals front office made moves in the offseason and beefed up the offensive line, but Sunday was the first time that unit played together — and it showed.

“Any time you have new guys up front, it’s going to take a while to get the communication right, and I thought they did a good job,” Burrow added.

He was being kind.

The line did not live up to the expectations.

Communication could have been established in the preseason, but hardly any of the starters played in those games.

“It’s not the way we wanted to start the season,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor after the game. “But we are smart enough to know not to react. When you lost the turnover ball five to nothing, I don’t expect to win many games. We almost did. So you’ve got to find the silver lining there.”

The Bengals, who fell to 0-1 after the 106th meeting between Cincinnati and the Steelers (1-0), travel to Dallas on Sunday to face the Dak Prescot-depleted Cowboys.

Prescot, the quarterback of “America’s Team”, will miss several weeks after injuring his thumb on his throwing hand during Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay.

“That’ll be my first time playing in that stadium as an NFL athlete,” Chase said. “Overall, it’ll be fun. Getting to go in Dallas. I know a few Dallas players so that’ll be pretty cool.”

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