BENGALS 16, STEELERS 10
Steelers' record: 4-4
One year ago: 5-3
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 30-16
The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field for an AFC North Divisional matchup in Week 8.
The return of Ben.
It was the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field for what sure looked like it had the potential to be an elimination game for the AFC North Division title, but it was the return of the Steelers' franchise quarterback to the starting lineup exactly 35 days after he sprained an MCL and sustained a bone bruise in the third quarter of the game against the Rams in St. Louis on Sept. 27 that held the spotlight.
Roethlisberger had practiced on a limited basis in the days leading up to last Sunday's game in Kansas City against the Chiefs, and then he felt well enough to practice fully Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday during the week of this game against the Bengals.
"I'm excited, but really I am a little nervous, a little anxious just because so many expectations, the guys and fans and media. To me it's more about the locker room, the guys," Roethlisberger told Mike Prisuta in a story that appeared on Steelers.com. "I know there's a lot of expectation from them. I want to be great for them. I want to help us win the game, and (Cincinnati) is a great football team. It's not going to be easy, so a little extra nerves."
Coach Mike Tomlin also acknowledged the Ben factor. "It's a shot in the arm, but we need to make it one. We need to play with the same sense of urgency we played with collectively when he was out to bridge the gap and make the ends meet. With his contribution that should make us a formidable outfit."
Roethlisberger did not miss a game in either 2013 or 2014, and the last time he was physically unable to play was during a three-game stretch of 2012 when he had a shoulder injury. In his first game back – against San Diego at Heinz Field – Roethlisberger completed 22-of-42 (52.4 percent) for 285 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception in a 34-24 loss to the Chargers.
In 2011, Roethlisberger sprained an ankle in a win over the Browns on Thursday, Dec. 8, and the decision was made to start him in San Francisco on the following Monday night (Dec. 19) because the Steelers had a chance to take over first place in the AFC North because of a Ravens loss the day before. In that game, Roethlisberger completed 25-of-44 (56.8 percent), with no touchdowns and three interceptions and the Steelers lost. After sitting out the next game – vs. the Rams at Heinz Field – Roethlisberger returned for the finale at Cleveland and completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 330 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions in a game the Steelers won, 13-9.
In other words, Roethlisberger has not been at his best in his first game back following a stint on the sideline with an injury, and the expectation is there will have to be some period of adjustment.
"It's no different to me than trying to play the first game of the year after playing preseason," Roethlisberger said. "You know it's different, you have to kind of feel it out and get going. I don't know too many times first games of the year you're just clickin' and hittin' it and all that stuff. There are a lot of little things like that involved. There will be rust. There will be nerves. It's just about trusting in the guys around me that they'll play for me if I'm not playing great."
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT**
For the first 7 minutes, 14 seconds of today's game at Heinz Field, it appeared as though the stories of Ben Roethlisberger being rusty again in his first game back from injury were greatly exaggerated. During that time, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 80 yards in 12 plays by completing 5-of-6 passes for 43 yards and a 1-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown on a ball that was thrown accurately and on time.
After that, though, things gradually fell apart.
After that opening possession drive for a touchdown, Roethlisberger completed 23-of-39 for 219 yards, with three sacks and three interceptions. His passer rating for the entire game was 57.8.
Of course, the loss of Le'Veon Bell to a knee injury in the second quarter was a significant blow to the offense, and its impact could be felt throughout Heinz Field. But even with that, the Steelers had their franchise quarterback and their full complement of wide receivers together for the first time this regular season, and the three interceptions against the Bengals were their most of this season.
"I'll analyze it tomorrow," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We played today, and I'll acknowledge that we have to do a better job of taking care of the football to have a chance to beat good people."
Asked for an assessment of Roethlisberger, Tomlin said, "When you're at the point Ben is in his career, winning and losing is all that matters. He sees that very clearly, as do I, but we didn't do enough to win today."
FIRST HALF STATS THAT STOOD OUT
The Bengals were 0-for-5 on third downs, and tight end Tyler Eifert had as many drops (one) as catches (one).
The Steelers took a 10-6 lead into the fourth quarter, and while their defense had played well to that point the unit kicked it up a notch on back-to-back possessions midway through the period. With just more than nine minutes remaining, Antwon Blake intercepted a pass in the end zone that was intended for Marvin Jones, and he returned it to the Pittsburgh 40-yard line. On the next Cincinnati possession, Mike Mitchell intercepted a pass intended for A.J. Green to give the Steelers the ball that time at their own 24-yard line.
But in between, the Steelers offense went three-and-out on one possession, and then Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception on the second play of the other possession. With an opportunity to put the Bengals away, the Steelers offense came up empty.
STAT THAT STOOD OUT
Andy Dalton came into the game leading the NFL in passer rating with a 116.1. Ben Roethlisberger didn't have enough attempts to qualify for the rankings because of the four-plus games he missed with a knee injury, but his passer rating for this season was 113.1. In the game today, Dalton finished with a 64.7 passer rating, while Roethlisberger finished with a 57.8.