Joe Burrow and the Bengals exercised several demons in Pittsburgh on Sunday, as Cincinnati thoroughly outplayed Ben Roethlisberger and the favored Steelers 24-10. Burrow threw three touchdown passes, while his defense sacked Roethlisberger four times while intercepting him twice.
A week after a frustrating loss in Chicago, the Bengals dominated a Steelers team that was also hoping to avenge an ugly Week 2 loss. Cincinnati's defensive line feasted on a Pittsburgh offensive line that has struggled to protect Roethlisberger, who now has as many touchdown passes as interceptions this season through three games. Conversely, the Bengals' offensive line did not allow a sack of Burrow, as the Steelers' NFL record of 75 straight games with a sack came to an end. Burrow's favorite target on Sunday was rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who caught two touchdown passes that included a momentum-turning, 34-yard scoring grab just before halftime. His 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave the Bengals an insurmountable 24-7 lead. Burrow finished with 172 yards on 14 of 18 passing.
Here's a deeper look at how the Bengals improved to 2-1 while dropping the Steelers to 1-2.
Why the Bengals won
Cincinnati outplayed the Steelers in all three phases. The Bengals' offensive line played significantly better than the Steelers' offensive front. The unit provided mostly solid protection for Burrow, who threw three touchdown passes for the third time in his career and the first time since Week 7 of the 2020 season. The Bengals' offensive line cleared the way for running back Joe Mixon to rumble for 90 yards on 18 carries. Cincinnati's offense overcame the absence of Tee Higgins, who was the Bengals' second-leading receiver through two weeks.
Defensively, the Bengals could have claimed residence in Pittsburgh's backfield. They constantly hounded Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times and hit on numerous other occasions. The pressure led to inaccurate throws from Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions to Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. The first pick set up the game's first score, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd. The second set up Burrow's second touchdown pass to Chase that extended the Bengals' lead to 24-7 late in the third quarter.
Why the Steelers lost
Pittsburgh's offensive line was manhandled by the Bengals' formidable defensive line. The Steelers once again could not get their running game going, as Pittsburgh rushed for just 45 yards on 15 carries. Roethlisberger made two critical mistakes while struggling with his accuracy. Pittsburgh's offense failed to cash in on two scoring opportunities in the second half. Chris Boswell missed a 42-yard attempt that would have made it a two-possession game with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Two possessions later, Roethlisberger overthrew a wide-open James Washington on a play that would have been a sure touchdown. That drive ended on Cincinnati's 11-yard-line, when Roethlisberger settled for a check-down completion to Harris that resulted in negative yardage.
Injuries also plagued the Steelers, as Pittsburgh lost receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and offensive linemen Chukwuma Okorafor and Kendrick Green during the game. Harris was the lone bright spot for the Steelers, as the first-round pick caught 14 passes for 102 yards. He had 57 total yards on Pittsburgh's only touchdown drive.
Turning point/play of the game
Despite outplaying Pittsburgh in the first half, it appeared that the Bengals would have to settle for a tied halftime score after Roethlisberger hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 4-yard score with 1:04 remaining in the first half. Instead of playing it safe, Cincinnati responded with Burrow's 34-yard touchdown pass to Chase that saw Chase burn Steelers cornerback James Pierre. Chase caught Burrow's perfect pass in stride while becoming the ninth player in NFL history to catch a touchdown in their first three NFL games.
"The only difference probably was that I didn't go for it on fourth-and-1 on my own 30, so that's probably the biggest difference there." -- Bengals coach Zac Taylor on the similarities between Sunday's game and the Bengals' Week 1 win over the Vikings. After scoring touchdowns to end the first half and at the beginning of the second half against Minnesota, Taylor called for a running play on fourth-and-1 at the Bengals' 30 that was stonewalled by the Vikings defense. The play led to a momentum-turning score for the Vikings, who forced overtime before the Bengals pulled out the victory.
"I'll point the thumb at myself and try to get it figured out. I'm a little stumped by it. I'm frustrated. I'm hurt. I hate losing. Never going to quit and give up. It's frustrating because I know the work that we all put in. ... We're busting our butt. We're having great days of practice, we're having great walkthroughs, good meetings. Just hope at some point it clicks for us." -- Roethlisberger on the state of the Steelers' offense.
An historic win for Bengals: Cincinnati's win was Burrow's first against an AFC North opponent. Burrow went 0-4 against divisional foes during his rookie season. It was also Burrow's first road win as an NFL quarterback. It was also Taylor's second road win since becoming the Bengals head coach in 2019.
The win was the Bengals' first in Pittsburgh since 2015, when they defeated the Steelers 16-10 in Week 8. It was also Cincinnati's first double-digit win over the Steelers since 1995, when Cincinnati defeated the eventual AFC champions 27-9 in Week 8. The Bengals have now won consecutive games against the Steelers for only the third time this century.
Steelers' streak snapped: Pittsburgh's streak of 75 consecutive games with a sack began in Week 9 of the 2016 season. Pittsburgh, who has led the NFL in sacks over that span, played Sunday's game without T.J. Watt and fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.
Pittsburgh will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers next Sunday. After consecutive games on the road, Cincinnati will return home to face the Jaguars, who are now 0-3 after dropping Sunday's game to the Cardinals.