Sloppy Bengals will need to get in synch, reduce mistakes
CINCINNATI (AP) — Clark Harris, Cincinnati’s veteran long snapper, might have cost the Bengals the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers just by getting hurt.
Or the blame could go on emergency backup long snapper, tight end Mitchell Wilcox, whose slightly high snaps might have contributed to Evan McPherson missing two potential winning kicks.
Or blame McPherson, who missed so few last season he got the nickname “Money Mac.”
Or blame quarterback Joe Burrow, who had the worst game of his pro career. He threw four interceptions and fumbled the ball away on one of his seven sacks.
Burrow, who got a late start in training camp while recovering from an appendectomy and didn’t play in any of the preseason games, looked out of sorts. He got sacked by Cam Heyward on the Bengals’ first offensive play, then on the next one threw a pick-6 to Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Bengals, who behind Burrow and McPherson made an improbable run to the Super Bowl last season, still should have won the game. Down 17-6 at halftime, Burrow engineered two second-half touchdown drives to tie the score at 20 as Cincinnati’s defense kept its thumb on the Steelers.
With seconds left in regulation, all Cincinnati needed was for McPherson to hit the extra point. He pulled it left. In overtime, he missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt — also wide left.
The misses came after he broke his own franchise record with a 59-yarder in the first quarter behind Harris, his regular long snapper.
“We had our chances,” coach Zac Taylor said. “To lose the turnover battle five to nothing, to have kick operations ruined on two kicks that both would have won the game is disheartening in that way, because I thought we would have handled those situations better.”
The weird stuff overshadowed the fact Cincinnati’s defense played an excellent game. The unit kept Pittsburgh quarterback Mitch Trubisky on the run, and kept him from finding anything downfield and limited big plays. Trubusky was limited to 194 yards passing yards and a short touchdown pass, and Pittsburgh’s running game was held to 75 yards.
WHAT’S NEEDS HELP
The Bengals spent big money in the offseason on three offensive linemen and have four new starters on the line. But because regulars were held out of the three preseason games, the unit doesn’t have a lot of experience playing together yet. Burrow, the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last year, was brought down seven times by the Steelers and took another four hits. The whole operation did seem to synch up better later in the game, but the line and Burrow need to figure out how to coalesce.
Cornerback Mike Hilton made eight solo tackles. ... Running back Joe Mixon grounded out some critical yards, finishing with 82 yards, including a breakaway for 31. ... Ja’Marr Chase, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, had 10 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
McPherson refused to blame Wilcox, the backup snapper, or holder Kevin Huber for his improbable misses with the game on the line.
“(Harris’ injury) impacted the operation as a whole,” McPherson said. “We were working on good timing and just hitting the ball. Mitch was looking good warming up. He did a pretty good job. I can’t put any blame on him. I’ve just got to make it.”
The second-year kicker was disgusted with himself.
“Twenty-nine yards is 29 yards,” he said of the missed field-goal attempt in OT. “I can hit that with my left foot, so there’s really no excuse for me to not make that one.”
The 38-year-old Harris was put on injured reserve Monday with a right biceps injury, and long snapper Cal Adomitis was elevated from the practice squad. ... WR Tee Higgins suffered a concussion on a hard hit in the second quarter. His status for Sunday’s game is still to be determined.
Minus-5: The Bengals’ turnover margin against the Steelers.
The offensive line will need to keep Burrow off the ground and limit the pass rush as the Bengals travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys in Week 2. The Cowboys learned Sunday night that quarterback Dak Prescott needs surgery on his right hand and will miss several weeks. Backup Cooper Rush is expected to start against Cincinnati. Dallas lost its opener to Tampa Bay 19-3.
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