Bengals fall to Steelers in Browning’s first NFL start

CINCINNATI — Jake Browning had the Cincinnati Bengals offense moving on the opening drive of the second half in his NFL starting debut, but a redzone interception at the end of it proved to be the difference in a win and a loss.

The Bengals were on the verge of extending their four-point halftime lead when Trenton Thompson stepped in front a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase at the Steelers’ 15-yard line and made the pick.

Pittsburgh took advantage of the momentum swing with a touchdown drive, capped by Najee Harris’ 5-yard run on its way to a 16-10 win Sunday at Paycor Stadium. The Bengals remain winless in the AFC North. They also fell below .500, at 5-6, with their third straight defeat, going into a Monday Night Football matchup at Jacksonville on Dec. 4.

“We just got to find a way to get wins,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We’re riding a three-game stretch now where we haven’t been able to do that. We had a great stride going into these three games, and that’s kind of how the NFL season goes. You’re going to hit stretches and you’ve got to find a way to overcome them and regroup. I told these guys Monday Night Football is the perfect opportunity to put your best foot forward and change the narrative of what’s happened these last couple weeks. I’ve got confidence this team will rebound the right way this week and put in the work they need to.”

Cincinnati had recorded its first two third-down conversions of the game on that first drive of the second half, including a 16-yard catch by Andrei Iosivas, but the third attempt resulted in the costly interception. Chase had just made a 25-yard over-the-shoulder catch to move the offense into the redzone.

The Bengals managed just two first downs after that, and the Steelers tacked on a 34-yard field goal from Chris Boswell with 8:03 left to extend their lead and got another 33-yarder with about three minutes remaining to make it 16-7. Evan McPherson’s 47-yard field goal 47 seconds later cut the deficit back to six, but it was too little, too late.

Cincinnati had gotten off to a rough start in the first half, netting just nine yards total over the first two drives, but Browning got things going on the third series with the help of a fortunate bounce after Mykal Walker tipped a pass that Chase still managed to catch for a 31-yard gain. That put the offense in the redzone, and two plays later Browning connected with former University of Washington teammate Drew Sample for an 11-yard touchdown pass and a 7-3 lead with 10:30 left in the second quarter.

Sample had caught two touchdown passes from Browning their senior season at Washington in 2018 when Browning was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

“He’s played in big games, so I think for him, he was poised, he was confident,” Sample said of Browning. “I’m sure he has things to learn, just like we all do, but he’s a competitor. He’s going to bounce back, learn from it and get better for next week.”

The defense came up with two big stops to give Browning a chance to take a lead on that third drive of the game, including a redzone turnover in the first quarter. Rookie cornerback DJ Turner, starting in Cam Taylor-Britt’s place, knocked the ball out of Diontae Johnson’s hands just before he hit the ground for what would have been a touchdown, and the next play, Turner recovered a fumble by Jaylen Warren that Zach Carter forced.

Pittsburgh (7-4) got as far as the Cincinnati 23-yard line the next drive but settled for a 41-yard field goal by Chris Boswell to take a 3-0 lead with 12:39 left in the second quarter.

The Bengals responded the ensuing series with Browning’s touchdown pass to Sample, which marked his second NFL touchdown after he had connected with Chase for a score at the end of the game at Baltimore on Nov. 16. Burrow had exited that game after throwing a go-ahead touchdown pass to Joe Mixon, but by the time Browning took the field the next drive, the Ravens had taken the lead for good. Burrow is having surgery on his right wrist on Monday.

Browning finished Sunday with 227 yards passing and one touchdown and one interception, but got little help from the running game, which produced just 25 yards on 11 carries. Chase had 81 yards on four catches and six targets.

The defense only allowed one touchdown but once again struggled stopping the run and giving up explosive plays. Harris finished with 99 yards on 15 carries, and the Steelers had 153 yards rushing for the game. Kenny Pickett threw for 278 yards, including a long of 43 yards to George Pickens, and tight end Pat Freiermuth collected his first 100-yard receiving performance with nine catches for 120 yards.

“We only gave up 16 points on defense and we lost,” Browning said.


Monday, Dec. 4

Bengals at Jaguars, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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