- Jay Morrison Staff Writer
If you are a Cincinnati Bengals fan who watched the team fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-20 Monday night, you were probably thinking you’ve seen this show before.
But you would be wrong.
Yes, the Steelers have won six in a row against the Bengals. And nine of 10. And 14 of 17. And a remarkable 15 of 17 at Paul Brown Stadium.
But none of those losses involved the type of colossal collapse that occurred this time.
The Bengals had won 42 consecutive games and 57 of 58 in the Marvin Lewis era when leading by at least 10 points after three quarters. They were up 20-10 Monday night.
Of course none of those previous 58 games was against the Steelers.
Prior to Monday, NFL teams were 87-2 this season when leading by at least 10 after three quarters.
The Bengals also were 35-3 under Lewis when leading by at least 14 at halftime. They were up 17-3 Monday night.
But again, none of those previous 38 games was against the Steelers.
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In the first 49 years of the franchise, the Bengals lost six games after leading by at least 14 at halftime. They’ve done it twice this season. The other was Week 3 in Green Bay when they fell 27-24 in overtime after leading 21-7 at the half.
NFL teams are 42-3 this season when leading by at least 14 at halftime, and two of those three losses belong to the Bengals.
Here are five more things to know about Monday’s loss:
The 13 penalties the Bengals committed Monday night were their most in a non-overtime game since 2009.
And the 173 penalty yards were the most in franchise history and tied for the 14th most in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
“Some of those I disagree with — I think everybody does,” said defensive end Chris Smith, who was not penalized. “But we have to not make those. If they are going to call it, we’ve got to find a way to not be in those situations. They hurt us down the stretch. Every game — not just this game, but every game — we have to learn not to beat ourselves.”
The Bengals collected 70 of the 173 penalty yards in the fourth quarter as they blew a 10-point lead.
Only three times this year did the Bengals have more than 70 penalty yards in a full game (81 at Tennessee, 77 at Jacksonville, 71 vs. Buffalo).
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had 68 penalty yards alone on a pair of pass interference calls — one in the second quarter, one in the fourth — that led to 10 Pittsburgh points.
While those were the longest penalties, the biggest was running back Giovani Bernard’s holding call that negated a 61-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green that would have given the Bengals a 24-10 lead with 7:38 left in the third quarter.
Bernard, who also had a false start in addition to rushing for a season-high 77 yards, joined Kirkpatrick as the only players flagged twice. The other nine penalties were committed by nine different players.
A Cincinnati defender standing and watching as a Pittsburgh player runs past on his way to glory in the end zone pretty much sums up the Bengals-Steelers rivalry of late.
And that’s exactly what happened on Pittsburgh’s opening drive of the third quarter. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a screen pass to running back Le’Veon Bell, who ran away from Jordan Evans as the rookie linebacker tried to push him out of bounds.
Cincinnati cornerback William Jackson was in position to help lead Bell to the boundary, but instead he stood and watched. Bell’s left foot barely stayed inside the white line and he went untouched for the final 20 yards of a 35-yard touchdown that got the Steelers within 17-10.
“I thought he was out,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to late hit him. He turned it up, caught me sleeping and scored a touchdown. I was definitely surprised. I just knew he was out of bounds, but obviously, he wasn’t.”
Ironically, Jackson had been penalized 15 yards earlier for forcing a Pittsburgh player out of bounds on a punt return. It was his team-leading eighth penalty of the year.
The two touchdown passes Dalton threw to Green on Monday not only helped the Bengals jump out to a 17-0 lead, they moved the duo into the record book.
They were the 51st and 52nd touchdown connections between Dalton and Green, moving them past Ken Anderson and Isaac Curtis for the most in Bengals history.
It was the sixth multi-touchdown game of Green’s career, and the first in more than two years.
Green has 57 career touchdowns, leaving him seven shy of Carl Pickens and James Brooks for third on the team’s career list.
His five touchdowns that didn’t come from Dalton were delivered by AJ McCarron (three), Mohamed Sanu and a game-winner in his first NFL game from Bruce Gradkoswki.
Green’s second touchdown — a 15-yarder from Dalton on third and 11 with 31 seconds left in the first half — looked as though it would send the Bengals into halftime with a 17-0 lead.
But the defense has been awful in the two-minute drill this season, and it got burned again Monday night when the Steelers drove 71 yards in 31 seconds to get a Chris Boswell 30-yard field goal at the gun to cut the deficit to 17-3.
The Bengals have allowed points in the final 23 seconds of the first half in six of the last seven games. In five of the six, the points have come on the final play of the second quarter.
The disturbing trend has been going on even longer when facing Pittsburgh, as Boswell’s field goal marked the 19th time in the last 23 games the Steelers have scored points against the Bengals in the final two minutes of the first half.
The Steelers outscored the Bengals 13-0 in the fourth quarter, which is nothing new.
In the last three meetings, Pittsburgh has outscored Cincinnati 25-0 in the fourth quarter and 64-3 in the second half.
But the second-half spiral extends well beyond Steelers games.
The Bengals have failed to score a fourth-quarter touchdown in seven of 12 games this year, and six times they have gone the entire second half without reaching the end zone.