Bengals' rookies do damage against Steelers
CINCINNATI — Many wondered what James Harrison might do against his old team Monday night. But the Bengals newcomers with the biggest impact against the Steelers were rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert.
The Bengals' top two picks in the 2013 draft each came up with big plays to give a sometimes-erratic offense enough production for a 20-10 victory over the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
Versatile running back Bernard, Cincinnati's second-round pick out of North Carolina, scored both Bengals touchdowns, the first two of his NFL career, on a 7-yard run and on a 27-yard catch and run as the Bengals evened their record at 1-1.
“It's always good to just get a win,” Bernard said. “That's how I am. Personal statistics aren't that much to me. We came out with a win, and we needed a win.”
Eifert, the first-round tight end from Notre Dame, set up Bernard's first score with the night's biggest play from scrimmage, a 61-yard catch and run through a gaping hole in the middle of the field in the first quarter.
The speedy 5-foot-9, 208-pound Bernard, effectively spelling starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis, carried eight times for 38 yards.
His biggest play came in the third quarter, when he slipped behind the Steelers' defensive line, took a pass from Andy Dalton across the middle and sprinted left, beating Pittsburgh's pursuit to the corner and skipping into the end zone to give the Bengals the lead for good, 17-10.
“I saw green grass,” Bernard said. “Once you see green grass, you've got to take it. There's not that many opportunities you get like that.”
“He did the things that we expect him to continue to do,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He had the great catch and run, and the run earlier, and then Benny (Green-Ellis) comes in and kind of finishes it off. It was a great job by the two of them.”
Green-Ellis finished with 75 rushing yards, 35 in the fourth quarter as the Bengals put the game on ice.
On the Bengals' first score, it was Eifert setting it up and Bernard finishing.
After Bernard picked up 8 yards on a nifty cutback run, Dalton pump-faked and found Eifert sprinting all alone up the middle of the field for 61 yards, setting up the Bengals at the Steelers' 13. One play later, Bernard bounded in from the 7, plowing his way in after contact at the goal line.
On defense, the Bengals' biggest plays came not from celebrated free-agent signing Harrison — released by the Steelers for salary-cap reasons in March — but from veteran defensive backs Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson.
The Bengals already trailed 3-0 and were on the ropes when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with reserve tight end David Paulson for a 34-yard gain to the Bengals' 13, a play that ended when Jones ran Paulson down from behind, lunged, ripped the football loose with his left hand and recovered it.
Officials originally ruled Paulson down by contact, but Lewis challenged, and the call was reversed upon review.
“Adam rebounded from the not-so-good play (getting beaten) to make a very good play,” Lewis said.
In the fourth quarter, Nelson made a diving interception of a pass behind Jerricho Cotchery that Cotchery tipped into the air, killing a Steelers' drive at the Bengals' 13 with 4:55 left in the game.
Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler in 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, finished with no tackles.
Rory Glynn is a freelance writer.