Seventy minutes, 13 first downs, five takeaways, seven sacks, one offensive touchdown, one defensive touchdown, one goal-line stand, two missed kicks that were good, one missed kick that was bad, two critical injuries, and one win.
Those are just some of the numbers in the Steelers' 23-20 Week 1 overtime victory over the Bengals at Paycor Stadium on Sunday.
Much like the 2021 season opener against the Bills, the Steelers marched into a strong AFC contender’s home to begin their 2022 campaign and left with an improbable victory.
The offense again did nothing, even with the very mobile Mitch Trubisky replacing the almost totally immobile Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Matt Canada’s offense mustered only 267 yards on the day—including just 75 on the ground, as running back Najee Harris tallied a mere 23 yards on 10 carries.
As for the defense, it was even more suffocating during 2022’s lid-lifter than it was last September 12 in Buffalo. Teryl Austin’s crew registered seven sacks on the day—including three by linebacker Alex Highsmith—and 11 quarterback hits. The defense also posted nine passes defended—including two by linebacker T.J. Watt, who also jumped high up in the air to snag a first-half interception.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick got the day’s festivities off to a flying start by intercepting a Joe Burrow pass and racing 31 yards to give Pittsburgh an early 7-0 lead.
That lead quickly turned into a 17-3 advantage thanks to the Steelers defense continuing to come through.
But while the offense did take advantage of Watt’s interception with a seven-play, 59-yard drive that culminated in a nifty one-yard touchdown pass from Trubisky to Harris, it did very little before or after.
Ten lousy points; that’s all the offense could generate off of four of the turnovers that weren't taken to the house.
That’s how a defense gets tired. That’s how a player like Burrow eventually hits his stride. That’s how a receiver like Ja'Marr Chase eventually begins to take over.
When you do what the Steelers defense did against Cincinnati’s offense on Sunday--including an impressive goal-line stand that ended with a pretty deflection by cornerback Cam Sutton with under two minutes to play and Pittsburgh clinging to a 20-14 lead--and the offense doesn’t do its part, it could have devastating implications.
Fortunately, it didn’t, as the two teams traded special teams blunders by missing several kicks near the end of regulation and into overtime—two by the Bengals kicker, Evan McPherson (a blocked extra point by Fitzpatrick at the end of regulation and a missed field goal in overtime); and one by kicker Chris Boswell (his 55-yard attempt thudded off the left uprights near the end of overtime)—in a game that seemed to be destined to end in a 20-20 tie.
But the Bengals made one more blunder near the end of overtime--they didn't milk the play clock down all the way before punting the ball back to Pittsburgh--to give the Steelers offense one last chance to foul things up with 56 seconds remaining.
Surprisingly, it didn’t. Trubisky made just enough plays to put Boswell in position to try again—this time from 53 yards away—and his second overtime attempt was true, as time--every last second of it--expired.
If only the Steelers didn’t suffer some potentially serious injuries. I don’t think the foot injury sustained by Harris late in Sunday’s game will be long-term—he did remain on the sideline after leaving the field—but the one suffered by Watt, a reported injury to his pectoral muscle?
That has already taken the luster off of this Week 1 win.
The very worst Watt injury news would--not could--take the shine off of the remainder of Pittsburgh's 2022 regular season.
Nevertheless, the Steelers did escape with a victory in Week 1, even though they did everything in their power to ruin it.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the Bengals still have some of that “Bungal” left in them.