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After the last time they met in the infamous Wild Card Game, the NFL admitted it blew two critical calls on the Steelers’ lone TD and Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter being on the field. Then at the spring meeting they re-interpreted the helmet-to-helmet hit with Exhibit A the call they didn’t make on Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier blasting Bengals running back Giovani Bernard for a concussion.
Then on Sunday night they had to deal with Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s “fumble,” at the Steelers 33 with 1:50 left. With a national TV audience being told it would be overturned and both clubs expecting to go back on the field, the play was upheld even though various shots showed Boyd’s knee down before the ball came out.
There is plenty of hope. Rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd, the legendary Pittsburgh schoolboy who played his first games at Heinz while playing for Clairton High School, had a fabulous homecoming until his last catch as he caught six balls for 78 yards. He converted two of the four third downs. Rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson’s first NFL catch came on third-and-three and was a 20-yarder down the middle. Kroft countered a drop with a big 21-yard catch down the seam that put them in the red zone for the first time. And Uzomah is as big and as athletic and as fast as advertised.
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But can they develop consistency quickly enough to keep them in the race? With A.J. Green doubled on his 11 targets, LaFell, Uzomah, and Boyd also got eight. Boyd converted for six, but LaFell and cheap jerseys and Uzomah combined for just six. Until the other guys get open consistently (and they run the ball better than 2.6 yards per carry), the Bengals are going to see soft zones tilted to Green.
Now slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard has. Dennard got fried twice by Coates, one on a 44-yarder where Ben does what Ben does. He made the snap play out longer than the 21st century after spinning away from defensive lineman Margus Hunt and when he saw Coates run away from Dennard he floated it to him.
That set up the first TD. The second TD came one snap after Dennard let Coates get behind him for a 53-yarder. In his first game back since blowing out his shoulder Nov. 22, Dennard offered no excuses about rust.
Lewis’ message appeared to get across to his locker room. Reporters on Monday quoted the player penalized on the last snap, cornerback Adam Jones, saying “I ain’t talking about Pittsburgh.” That was a play marred by jagged edges of emotion as well as the NFL later saying the officials blew the call when Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter stalked the Bengals huddle illegally, which is what Jones was objecting when he got a personal foul that gave the Steelers the win.
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“You don’t need to remember. In terms of like game plan wise, we’re watching film to see what they did well in the last game and the previous games,” said safety George Iloka. “It’s a division game. You already know what it brings, whether it’s the Ravens, Steelers or Browns. All those games are tough and physical. The only thing we can take away from the last game were things schematic wise that they might try to hit us with the things that we need to correct. But nothing in terms of vendettas or anything like that.”
“Nick’s a rookie player. He’ll develop. When we need him we’ll put him out there,” Guenther said. “ Just like any other guys that come through here. You’ve got to build it up and when you’re ready you’ll be out there.”
That’s what Guenther hopes he’s doing with Hunt, the 2013 second-round pick who played the most he ever has in his career Sunday. Because the Bengals wanted to make sure they had all six cornerbacks dressed against the Jets’ multiple receivers, they sat tackle DeShawn Williams. With Hunt and Will Clarke able to move from end to tackle in nickel, they combined for 42 snaps off the bench.
“I think we caught them sleeping a little bit on (Brandon) LaFell, and that’s good,” said head coach Marvin Lewis of the 49-yarder. “That’s the thing we saw from Brandon, is he’s got great body control. He’s a very accomplished NFL receiver and you saw him catching the ball going across the field, you saw him catching the ball on the sideline today, and he caught a couple deep balls. It was big.”
Thanks to a slow start complicated by a ligament injury in his hand, LaFell hadn’t done all that much in training camp. But when the bell rang, he was ready to take advantage of Dalton’s quick snap.