PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t dig out of a winless hole despite a prime-time road matchup against their biggest rival.
The Bengals were unable to avoid their first 0-4 start in more than a decade Monday night, as Pittsburgh capitalized and won its first game of the season 27-3 at home.
Cincinnati opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2008, when the Bengals dropped their first eight and finished 4-11-1.
“We didn’t expect to be an 0-4 team, but that’s where we’re at right now,” first-year coach Zac Taylor said. “There’s no excuses we can make.”
Taylor is the second coach in team history to start 0-4, joining Sam Wyche, who did the same in 1984. The Bengals have never reached the playoffs after opening the season 0-3, let alone four straight losses. Dating back to last season, Cincinnati has lost six straight and 13 of its last 15 games.
“In football, there’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be good plays and bad plays,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “But the most frustrating thing to me is losing.”
Pittsburgh has won nine straight against the Bengals and 12 of 13 overall, with Cincinnati’s only victory at Heinz Field in 2015 during that time. The Bengals are 6-16 in primetime games — including 2-6 on Monday night — since 2011, when quarterback Andy Dalton was a rookie.
“At the end of the day, I can take the losing, but when you go out there and get embarrassed, Monday night, prime time . I have too much pride to go out there and showcase what we showcased,” receive Tyler Boyd said.
Dalton entered the game second in the league in passing, but he was held to just 171 yards. Joe Mixon had 62 yards for a Bengals’ offense that ranks last in the league in rushing. Receiver A.J. Green worked out before pregame warmups, but he missed his fourth game with an ankle injury suffered in training camp.
“We have to make plays, we have to execute better,” Dalton said. “It’s everywhere and it starts with me. We have to improve what we’ve done to this point because it’s nowhere near the level that we want to play.”
Pittsburgh fumbled on its second offensive play and Cincinnati turned it into an early 3-0 lead following a 28-yard Randy Bullock field goal. The Bengals begin the series on the Pittsburgh 15, but only managed five yards before Bullock’s kick.
After the field goal, the Cincinnati offense went three-and-out three times and fumbled another time in its next four possessions, as the Steeler defense harassed Dalton, and finished with eight sacks.
Cincinnati, trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, pushed to the Pittsburgh 11. But the drive stalled on the ninth play when Bud Dupree forced a Dalton fumble, recovered by T.J. Watt, giving possession — and the momentum — to Pittsburgh.
“We have to score when the defense turns the ball over,” Boyd said. “When we had the fumble, we had to score on that drive, as well. If we score on both of those drives, the game would’ve been different.”
The Steeler offense peppered the Bengals’ defense with short, high-percentage passes. Mason Rudolph, making his second NFL start with the injured Ben Roethlisberger sidelined for the season, was an efficient 24 of 28 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 208 total yards and two touchdowns on 36 touches. Samuels didn’t touch the ball during Pittsburgh’s loss last week at San Francisco.
Pittsburgh turned a 10-3 halftime lead to a 14-point advantage on the opening drive of the third quarter. Samuels hit Conner with a 21-yard wildcat pitch and then punched it in for a 2-yard touchdown on the next play, making it 17-3.
Two plays after a Cincinnati three-and-out, Rudolph found a wide-open Diontae Johnson for a 43-yard touchdown and a 24-3 lead.
“Everyone’s watching and you’re trying to get a big win to show that you’re not the team you were the first three weeks,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “But we showed that we are that team, so we have to fight and show everybody that we can get better. If not, we’re going to keep losing a lot of games.”