Special-teams miscues against Steelers prove costly for Bengals
The Bengals had a chance to take control in the race for the No. 2 seed and a bye week in the AFC playoffs, but a slow start Sunday night left them still in a fight to win the AFC North.
Early mistakes and a terrible game on special teams by the Bengals allowed the Steelers to race out to a 24-0 lead, and after the game, Bengals players and coaches were disappointed with the poor performance in a 30-20 loss at Heinz Field.
“The miscues we had, with dropping the snap on the punt, putting ourselves behind right away,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We didn't make any plays. We didn't create opportunities.
“We played behind in field position for almost the whole first half, and we made it difficult on ourselves.”
The dropped snap on the punt set up the Steelers' first touchdown on a 1-yard Le'Veon Bell run, but the Bengals' special teams problems didn't end there.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bengals running back Cedric Peerman inadvertly waved for a fair catch at the 9-yard line while calling return man Brandon Tate off the ball.
Then came the most disastrous play of the game for the Bengals, a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Steelers' Antonio Brown. On the play, Kevin Huber was flattened by a Terence Garvin block and knocked out of the game with a broken jaw.
“You don't ever want to see anyone go down, especially your own teammate,” defensive end Michael Johnson said. “I didn't see the hit, but I heard he broke his jaw.”
Said kicker Mike Nugent: “I just want to see how Kevin is doing. Seeing someone laying like that, face down, you never want to see that, whether it's your team or their team.”
That left Nugent to handle the punting duties, and he did so adequately, with punts of 37 and 43 yards. Still, it was another setback for a team that had little go right in the first half.
“I hit a (fake) field goal punt in '06 or '07, but I haven't punted since high school,” Nugent said. “Our special teams coach keeps us in a good mindset in case things like that happen in a game. The case was that our punter was out, and I had to do what I could to give us decent field position and not make it tough on the defense.”
Though the Bengals avoided further major mistakes and slowly cut the Steelers' lead to 10 points in the fourth quarter, they were unable to produce the big plays needed to come back from the huge deficit.
“We just didn't make enough plays. I didn't make enough plays,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “But we have two games left, two home games at that, and hopefully, we'll be able to bounce back.”