58F Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
The Cincinnati Bengals felt like they let one get away in their season opener, blowing a double-digit lead in the second half of a performance full of turnovers and penalties.
They'll still head into Week 2 feeling much better than the Pittsburgh Steelers .
After losing three players for the season in their opener and looking inept offensively, the Steelers could have a difficult time continuing their road dominance of the Bengals in this Monday night reunion with former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison .
The AFC North went 0 for 4 in Week 1, a surprisingly empty start from a division that's produced five playoff teams over the past two seasons.
The Bengals blew an 11-point third-quarter lead, turned it over three times and committed eight penalties - including linebacker Rey Maualuga 's personal foul away from the play that allowed Chicago to run out the clock - in their 24-21 loss, but they were by far the North's most competitive team after clunkers from the Steelers, Browns and Ravens.
"Yeah, it helps ease it a little bit," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "But you can look at it the other way, too, and say we could've been one up."
Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict suffered a knee bruise, but it isn't believed to be serious. The Bengals head into Week 2 mostly healthy and may get left tackle Andrew Whitworth back after he sat out the opener with a knee injury.
The Steelers' injury report is a bit more extensive. Center Maurkice Pouncey tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee on the team's first drive, linebacker Larry Foote ruptured his biceps and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling also tore an ACL in Pittsburgh's 16-9 home loss to Tennessee.
With utility lineman Kelvin Beachum having to come in to replace Pouncey for his first NFL action at center, the Steelers' offense managed 195 total yards - including 32 on 15 carries - and didn't score until 1:23 remained.
"We've got a lot of work to do," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Nobody cares about our problems. They're glad we've got them. We need to understand that. We need to stick together and persevere."
One Bengal who figures to be particularly unsympathetic to the Steelers' woes is Harrison, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year who the team released in March when the sides couldn't agree on a restructured deal.
Harrison, fined six times for a total of $125,000 from 2010-11 for hits the league deemed illegal or unnecessary, said in April he wasn't upset.
"I don't have a chip on my shoulder against the Steelers," Harrison said. "I don't hate the Steelers. All the things they're saying, that the media is blowing it up to be ... am I disappointed? Yeah, I'm disappointed."
He was limited to one tackle in the loss to the Bears, but Tomlin is expecting a locked-in Harrison on Monday.
"We all know how James plays," Tomlin said. "He brings physicality to the table, he's a guy who brings great passion and he can inspire his teammates."
The Steelers, looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2002, certainly fared well in Cincinnati when Harrison was wearing black and gold. They've won 11 of their last 12 at Paul Brown Stadium, including last season's 24-17 victory there Oct. 21 behind Jonathan Dwyer 's 122 yards on 17 carries.
Pittsburgh released Dwyer in its final round of cuts, but re-signed him Sept. 9 after Stephens-Howling's injury and Isaac Redman 's struggles. Redman is expected to start in Cincinnati, but Dwyer should get some time with rookie Le'Veon Bell likely out at least another month with a foot injury.
Beachum won't be the one snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger on Monday, though. Fernando Velasco , who started 13 games at center for Tennessee a year ago before being released in late August, will get the start.
The Steelers have run for at least 100 yards in all 29 of their victories against Cincinnati since 1993.
"I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance," Tomlin said. "We haven't been able to do that to this point."
The Bengals fared well against the run in Chicago, holding the Bears to 2.9 yards per carry, but they did allow a pair of 80-yard scoring drives after taking a 21-10 lead.
Cincinnati's offense did even better sustaining drives. The Bengals marched for touchdowns of 97, 91 and 80 yards against what was the NFL's fifth-rated defense last season.
"They didn't stop us one time," said receiver A.J. Green, who had nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. "They didn't really stop us on offense. We were doing whatever we wanted. The biggest thing we had was turnovers."
The Andy Dalton -Green connection has been oddly quiet in Cincinnati against cornerback Ike Taylor and the Steelers. Green has totaled two catches in a pair of home games versus Pittsburgh, though both were for touchdowns.
Green has 17 catches, 203 yards and 29 targets in two games in Pittsburgh, including 10 grabs in Cincinnati's 13-10 win at Heinz Field in December that eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention. That was the same game Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller tore his ACL.
Miller, Roethlisberger's top target last season with 71 receptions and eight TDs, has returned to practice but has been ruled out Monday.