CINCINNATI – OUCH.
Just when the Bengals and their fans had gotten over the meltdown against the Steelers in the 2015 playoff game, it happened again Sunday.
"Imagine how we feel," Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "I imagine how the fans feel."
Celebration turned to shock in the last 1:18 as the Bengals snatched defeat from victory in a 28-21 loss to the Steelers in a drizzling rain.
No sooner had the Bengals appeared to have clinched their fourth fourth-quarter comeback victory with a Joe Mixon 4-yard TD run, giving them a 21-20 lead, Ben Roethlisberger & Co. shredded the Bengals defense for 77 yards in seven plays in the last 68 seconds.
The killer was Antonio Brown’s 31-yard TD catch and run up the middle of the field with 10 seconds to go, followed by a two-point conversion. After the game, Roethlisberger said he saw that Bengals were set for an all-out blitz with no safeties and he immediately thought touchdown.
"When you see that look, it's 'How fast can I get him the ball?' " said Roethlisberger, who is 14-2 in his career at Paul Brown Stadium.
Brown caught the ball in stride, cut receiver Justin Hunter's block - was it an illegal pick?- and outran the secondary for the winning score, leaving thousands of Steelers fans twirling their towels in the stands while stunned Bengals fans stood and watched a familiar ending.
The Bengals (4-2) not only blew a chance to end their domination by the Steelers (3-2-1), they let the Steelers close the gap in the AFC Central Division when the Bengals had a chance to take a three-game lead in the win column.
Instead, the Bengals had to sit in the locker room and wonder how they can ever beat the Steelers – especially if they need a late-season win in Pittsburgh to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh has won the last eight meetings. The Steelers are 16-2 at Paul Brown Stadium during Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons, including a pair of playoff wins.
The Bengals were shut out in the second half until Andy Dalton put together a nine-play, 75-yard drive that led to Mixon’s TD. with 1:18 to go.
It was the Bengals who scored a dramatic TD in the last minute of the first half to tie the score and appear to take momentum.
After the Steelers went ahead 14-7 on the second James Conner 1-yard TD plunge, Alex Erickson returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Steelers’ 49. Dalton then threw his second TD pass to Tyler Boyd – a 14-yarder – with 23 seconds to go in the half.
But the Steelers were superior on the both sides of the ball. Pittsburgh gained 481 yards to Cincinnati's 275.
Dalton was 26-of-42 for 229 yards. Mixon gained 62 yards on 11 carries and had four catches for 20 yards.
Boyd had a solid game against his hometown team wirh seven catches for 62 yards and a 2-yard score. A.J. Green had seven catches for 85 yards.
Roethlisber completed 32-of-46 for 369 yards. Conner ran for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the eve of Le’Veon Bell’s possible return. Brown caught five passes for 107 yards.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a spectacular catch — leaping over cornerback Darqueze Dennard and taking the ball way at the 1-yard line — that set up Conner’s second touchdown. Smith-Schuster caught seven passes for 11 yards.
Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict was in the middle of several dustups. He had words with Roethlisberger only three minutes into the game. He stepped over Conner on the running back’s first touchdown, prompting a teammate to push him away before the situation could escalate.
Burfict also hit Brown in the head — he wasn’t penalized — after a catch, causing the receiver to leave for a couple of plays.
"A nasty hit," Brown said.
Burfict yelled at a reporter in the locker room after the game for asking a teammate about the latest hit on Brown's head. In 2015, Burfict’s hit on Brown and the penalty that followed helped the Steelers rally for an 18-16 playoff win.
Before the mind-blowing last 1:18, it appeared the question of the day was going to be: Would you have gone for it?
The Bengals’ own radio announcers were second-guessing the coaching staff’s decision to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Steelers 40 in the third quarter.
The game was tied 14-14. Mixon had just been stuffed for no gain on third down. After the punt, the Steelers marched from the 12-yard-line to the go-ahead field goal.
When the Bengals offense continued into the fourth quarter without a point in the second half, it appeared to be the deciding moment of the game.
Little did we know.
DALTON MOVES UP
Dalton moved ahead of Boomer Esiason for second on the Bengals' career passing list behind Ken Anderson. Dalton fell to 3-12 against the Steelers.
Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard missed a second straight game with a knee injury. LB Nick Vigil left with an injured left knee in the first quarter. Dennard hurt his right shoulder on Smith-Schuster's catch and didn't return. S Shawn Williams left in the second half with a concussion.
Steelers: Have their bye week.
Bengals: Play Sunday night at Kansas City. The Bengals are 0-5 on Sunday night since 2011.