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The storyline going into the game was that the Bengals needed to get their running game going and they opened with 65 rushing yards on their opening drive and 143 rushing yards overall. That helped them take the lead in the fourth quarter against the defending Super Bowl champs, but critical mistakes on both sides of the ball cost them the game.
“We have to be able to find a way to grind it out,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “We dropped a third down pass and those kinds of things are huge in the game. Just do things the way we know you can do them. We have a lot of good players that are doing good things a lot of the time. But today we didn’t do it well enough, long enough.”
When Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green dropped a third-and-three pass on the sideline, Siemian went for the kill on the first snap despite being backed up at his 17. His 28-yard seed to tight end Jeff Heuerman working on safety George Iloka for his first NFL catch set up the 51-yarder to Thomas working against cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris for his 100-yard game. Lewis-Harris was in the game with Adam Jones on the sideline with cramps.
After holding Denver to 15 yards in the third quarter (featuring left end Carlos Dunlap’s first sack of the season), the Bengals took a 17-16 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter on Mike Nugent’s 34-yard field goal. It capped a grinding 15-play drive that came up short in the red zone, where the Bengals were looking at first-and-10 from the Denver 15 after Green slithered in front of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib for nine yards.
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Maybe it’s because we see Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice a year, but why he’s not mentioned with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as one of the league’s best is beyond me. What more can a guy do? He’s got two or three guys hanging all over him on a lot of his throws and he still it gets there, turning almost every play into the possibility of a big-play-play-ground completion. Then he’ll also throw a seed to someone no one ever heard of, such as tight end Xavier Grimble for his first career catch and TD catch. Half-a-foot lower and cheap jerseys and Bengals safety George Iloka knocks the ball down.
That’s another thing about Big Ben that is Brady-esque. Wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are out. Running back Le’Veon Bell is suspended. Tight end Heath Miller is retired. Yet Roethlisberger still finds a way to put up the same numbers with no names and fugitives like Grimble, Sammie Coates and Jesse James.
The difference in the game? With Antonio Brown blanketed, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found his young tight ends looking to replace Heath Miller with TDs.
“We’ve got some young guys on this side of the ball and the more they play, they’ll be better and better,” said Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “I think it’s going to take time. You’re just not going to run out of the gate and score a ton. Guys have to get used to each other and get to know each other. As good as Andy and LaFell both are, there’s a learning period to just to get to know each other.
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I still think the gutsiest win in the Marvin Era_ and maybe even more important than the win over KC in 2003_ came in the second game of 2009 in Green Bay. The Bengals were coming off that brutal Opening Day loss against Denver when an inadvertent tipped pass with 11 seconds left somehow beat them from 87 yards away, and they were looking at going down 0-2 with the Steelers coming to town. A lot of teams would have gone in the tank.
But this is where Mike Zimmer’s great pass defense began to take a foothold and why Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers salutes him before games. The Bengals survived two Charles Woodson picks totaling 59 yards (one went for a 37-yard TD) when they took advantage of a banged-up Packers offensive line for six sacks and held Rodgers to the modest numbers of one TD pass and an 83.4 passer rating in a 31-24 win.
“This is a new team, a new season, and a new year,” fits no one better than Bengals rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd, a second-round pick who has secured a starting slot receiver role, is a Pittsburgh native who played at the University of Pittsburgh. The Panthers share Heinz Field with the Steelers and that meant Boyd rubbed elbows with the guys he saw on TV.
Yes, it meant he commiserated with that Bengals’ arch-villain Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s 1,800-yard receiver. It turns out Brown treated him well, gave him more than the time of day, and advised him on the finer points of the NFL game. Boyd is on familiar enough terms to call him “A.B.”