If you live long enough, you’re going to see something you've never seen before, and that wasn’t limited Sunday to the Bengals putting a dominating hurt on the Steelers in Pittsburgh. It included making Ben Roethlisberger look old, rallying from a dispiriting loss last week in Chicago and shoring up the team’s belief in its head coach.
What resulted was a 24-10 glide for the Bengals against the team that, to varying degrees, has been stomping on their dreams for the last half-century.
“We played the type of game we wanted to play,’’ Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. That’s absolutely true. There was nothing to complain about. Joe Burrow did to the Steelers what Ben has always done to the Bengals.
Bengals dominate Steelers:Cincinnati gets first win in Pittsburgh since 2015
Not to single out Ben. The Steelers in general had a bad day. But since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2004, Roethlisberger has embodied how the Steelers have owned the Bengals.
For several years, some of us have predicted the sort of Ben miniaturizing we witnessed at Heinz Field on Sunday. Roethlisberger, we decided, was finally too old and not too nimble. His days of wrecking the Bengals were over, we decided. And then they weren’t.
Maybe the Bengals' defense is pretty fair this year. Or maybe Ben’s end is nigh. Does it matter to you which is true, so long as the consequences work to Cincinnati’s favor?
It’s impossible to recall when Roethlisberger was less potent. For most of the first half, Ben worked on the Steelers' horizontal passing game. Desperation in the second half demanded more aggressive play calling, but throwing down the field instead of across it didn’t help things.
With the game in the balance – a situation Roethlisberger used to own – the Steelers never got closer than 10 points after the first few minutes of the second half.
“It’s fun to watch the other quarterback on his back,’’ Taylor noted.
Meantime, the Bengals took control of everything. They scored on their initial possession in the third quarter, then forced Roethlisberger into a horrible throw that linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted, then took advantage when Joe Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase with a 9-yard TD pass.
And just like that, the Bengals were up 24-7 and wiping their cleats on Big Brother’s facemask.
We’ve been rude to the offensive line’s ability to pass block, so it’s important to note that Chase was Burrow’s fifth option on the TD pass. Meaning, the QB had time enough to read a Russian novel and eat a ham sandwich before he needed to unload the ball.
"That’s all because of you guys,’’ Burrow told his linemen afterward.
'I didn't feel anything from his side':Bengals' Jackson Carman impresses in 1st NFL start
Shockingly, from Roethlisberger on down, the Steelers looked unsure of themselves. The way so many Bengals teams have looked against the Steelers for the better part of 50 years. This win was important to this Bengals team for every imaginable reason. The obvious significance of a road win against a divisional opponent didn’t even top the list.
Beating the Steelers like this validates at least for now Taylor’s way of doing things. That was in doubt as recently as game time Sunday. Players had begun to question openly their head coach after the loss in Chicago. That’s something that’ll get a coach fired. Not now.
The o-line allowed zero sacks and helped Joe Mixon to 90 rushing yards and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average. The defense again dulled the opponent’s lead running back (Najee Harris, 14 carries, 40 yards) and kept Roethlisberger’s wide receivers from getting behind the secondary.
Most importantly, a team with six wins in the previous two years showed it understands what winning requires. That’s a mammoth lesson to learn so early in a season. Maybe that’s why, when I asked Taylor, “What was special and important to you in this win?’’ the coach answered, “Our team’s ability to finish on the road.’’
In the past, you wouldn’t have worried about the Bengals leading by “only’’ 17 in the fourth quarter. . . because you’d assumed already they’d find a way to lose. But now, the past is the past. Maybe. Finally.
On Sunday, Bengals fans looked hopefully at 24-10 and saw two careers passing in the night. Burrow was doing to the Steelers what Roethlisberger has always done to the Bengals. A rare sight. You might say you could go a long time and not see that. Practically a lifetime.