Bengals not ready for prime-time

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:45 AM ET

CINCINNATI - It was a statement game for the Cincinnati Bengals and they made one. It went: We're not quite ready for prime time.

With a five-game win streak on the line and their first major test against one of the elite teams of the NFL, the Bengals did what they have done so many times before -- they lost.

In dropping a 24-17 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers the Bengals didn't fold like the Bungles of old, they just proved that this day on their home field with so much on the line, they couldn't quite get it done, couldn't get over the hump.

Trailing 24-17, the Bengals last gasp, their final shot at glory, came with 4:28 to play. They had the ball on the Pittsburgh 49 and a couple of flashy runs by Cedric Benson gained them 23 yards and a first down at the Pittsburgh 26.

But on second and nine from the 25-yard line disaster struck as rookie quarterback Andy Dalton attempted to throw a strike to wide receiver Jerome Simpson at the 19 only to have veteran Steelers corner William Gay jump the route and pick off the pass.

It was the final dagger through the heart of the Bengals and the 63,262 fans who entered Paul Brown Stadium with so much hope, such high expectations.

Instead, they shuffled out as losers.

If anything, the final score flattered the Bengals, who this day were thoroughly outplayed by a veteran Steelers squad that got up off the mat following last week's loss against their hated rival, the Baltimore Ravens.

If anyone thought the Steelers would be suffering some sort of hangover effect, were down in the dumps over that defeat and may be unable to rise up against the Bengals, they were proved dead wrong in the opening 11 minutes as Pittsburgh breezed to a 14-0 lead.

"Good bounce-back performance for us in many ways," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "The plays from the defence, particularly down the stretch to preserve the win, in lieu of how we finished the game last week -- we are excited about that.

"If we are going to be the kind of team we desire to be, we have to get back on the winning side of things when we don't get the job done. That's what this game was all about."

The Bengals came into the game with the fourth best overall defence and were ranked second against the run. By the end of the game the Steelers had 24 first downs to Cincinnati's 14, and held the ball for 33:53 against the Bengals 26:07. They pretty much won all the battles.

The Steelers won the coin toss and arrogantly elected to put their defence on the field, preferring to have the wind at their back.

It worked like a charm as the Bengals went three out and the Steelers, showing relentless efficiency, moved 54 yards in eight plays with Ben Roethlisberger zipping a 16-yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery.

On their second possession it was another three and out for the Bengals with the Steelers starting at their own 22.

This time it took eight plays and ended with Rashard Mendenhall plunging in from two yards to put the Steelers up 14-0.

By this time the stadium was deathly quiet save for the Steelers fans waving their towels. The rest sat numb having been there and seen it happen so many times before.

The Bengals managed to come back and make a game of it. They closed to 17-10 at the half and in the third quarter tied it up on a one-yard pass from Dalton to tight end Jermaine Gresham in the corner of the end zone.

But like a stakes horse going up against a pony, the Steelers decided to get back to business, put their foot back on the gas and after taking the kickoff marched 81 yards to retake the lead with Mendenhall's second touchdown of the game.

It stayed that way through a scoreless fourth quarter that was highlighted by two Dalton interceptions, the second one being the killer.

It was a deflating loss in every which way.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the outcome today," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We didn't have a real good start defensively and gave up some big third-down plays. Not getting off the field and allowing drives to continue really made a difference in the game. We have to do a better job there.

"Offensively we went three-and-out and we weren't really able to get our feet under us early on. We were looking at tying the game there in the fourth quarter, so we really fought back."

But the fight was lost and the Bengals at 6-3 now must travel to Baltimore and face a higher hurdle.

They tripped on the first one Sunday.


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