(CINCINNATI) I have to admit, even I was a little surprised.
When Joe Mixon plowed his way into the end zone with 1:18 to play in regulation, I gathered my gear and left my lofty spot in the media box to make my way down to the Bengals locker room, with most of the press. Cincinnati had about a 75 percent chance of winning the game.
On the way down, we could hear grumbling from the fans inside Paul Brown Stadium.
When I got to the field, somehow the Pittsburgh Steelers had taken the lead on a 31-yard touchdown strike from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown with 10 seconds to play.
Just like that, Cincinnati fell to 4-2 on the season.
At the same time, I wasn’t surprised, but I was frustrated that I missed the play. After all, I was at last year’s Monday Night Game when the Steelers (3-2-1) won 23-20 on a last-second field goal.
That was the game Ryan Shazier went down for Pittsburgh, and many thought he might be paralyzed when he suffered a spinal injury. But on Sunday, the former Ohio State Buckeye walked onto the same field he was carted off on last year.
His presence motivated his Steelers, who stunned The Who-Dey faithful with another last-second win.
The loss fit the mood of the rainy, drizzly Sunday afternoon in the Queen City.
“They made a play, and we didn’t,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after the game. “It’s frustrating to lose games at home, particularly division games.”
The result has been an ongoing Groundhog Day for the Bengals. They have lost seven in a row to Pittsburgh, 10 out of the last 11 and 15 out of the last 18 games.
And what makes it more difficult for Cincinnati fans to accept is that quarterback Andy Dalton is having perhaps one of his best seasons ever.
On Sunday, he threw for 229 yards and completed 26 of 42 with two touchdowns. In the last six games, he has thrown for 1,674 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning a completion percentage of 65.1 percent, which has him in the early discussions for an MVP candidate. In his defense, Cincinnati receivers dropped six passes, including two by All-Pro receiver A.J. Green.
But in the end, the loss on Sunday was all on the defense.
A far cry from last week’s performance when Cincinnati rallied to beat Miami, the Bengal defense gave up nearly 500 yards to Pittsburgh and could not make crucial plays in crunch time.
Roethlisberger was never pressured. And when you give a Super Bowl champion time in the pocket, he will pick the defense apart. On Sunday, he threw for 369 yards and had a passer rating of 100.7.
“I’m not surprised when number seven comes through,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about the game-winning drive. “He’s just himself at those times when others aren’t. He’s been in so many of those moments. But no doubt the offensive line came to play.”
The winning TD strike to Brown was nonchalant to Roethlisberger.
He saw a cover-zero defense lined up with a blitz.
“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “And I called a slant pass to Antonio Brown, and he did the rest.”
The Bengals remain in first place in the AFC North, tied with Baltimore, and they next travel to Kansas City for Sunday Night Football. The Chiefs (5-1) suffered their first loss of the season to New England Sunday night.
Pittsburgh will host the Browns this Sunday, who they tied earlier in the season. Cleveland’s record is 2-3-1.
“We are looking at that game right now,” Tomlin said. “We are motivated.”
Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.
His first book — BUCKEYE BELIEVER - 40 Days of Devotions for The Ohio State Faithful —can be purchased on Amazon.