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Bengals find another way to lose to Steelers

The Steelers did it again.

And so did the Bengals.

The Steelers defeated the Bengals 23-20 Monday night on Chris Boswell‘s third walkoff field goal in the last four weeks. They deserve credit for overcoming not only a 17-point deficit but also the mental burden of wondering if teammate Ryan Shazier would ever walk again.

The Bengals deserve credit, too, for finding yet another way to piss away a win over the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger has faced the Bengals 30 times in his career, including playoffs, and won 23 of those meetings. Monday night’s win was the Steelers’ sixth straight over the Bengals, their longest such streak against the men in the striped helmets since they beat them eight straight times from 1991 to 1994.

This did not look like the Steelers’ night, however.

The game got off to a bad start for them when Roethlisberger threw an interception on the game’s opening drive. And it got off to an even worse start when Shazier hurt his back making a tackle on the Steelers’ third defensive play. Shazier’s body was strapped to a board and he left the stadium in an ambulance. Fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams was in tears. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stood next to Mike Tomlin providing updates on Shazier while the game was going on.

In the hours after the game, the news on Shazier seemed a little better. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, two players said the injury is a spinal-cord contusion. That’s what happened to Tommy Maddox in 2002 and he missed just one game. According to a statement released by the Steelers Tuesday afternoon, Shazier is expected to stay at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for the next 24-48 hours and undergo further tests.

The Steelers knew of no encouraging news during the game. On the sidelines and on the field, their focus in the first half wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be, and understandably so. But that’s part of the game, and it was the perfect opportunity for the Bengals to rise further from the ashes of their historically inept 0-2 start and move to within a game of the final playoff spot in the AFC.

Instead, the Bengals fell to 5-7 and their playoff chances are all but dead while the Steelers (10-2) can clinch the AFC North with a win or a tie against the Ravens on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

The Bengals’ first win over the Steelers since 2015 was well within their grasp at Cincinnati Monday night when A.J. Green caught his second touchdown pass of the night from Andy Dalton with 31 seconds left in the first half, increasing their lead to 17-0.

Considering all that had transpired in the first half, it would have been understandable if the Steelers had just taken a knee and tried to get their heads right at halftime.

But they wanted to put points on the board before the break, and the Bengals obliged by yielding a 33-yard gain to Le’Veon Bell on a screen pass and giving up another 38 yards when Dre Kirkpatrick interfered with Antonio Brown. Those two plays set up Boswell’s 30-yard field goal.

Then in the second half, William Jackson assumed Jordan Evans pushed Bell out of bounds and let him jog into the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown catch that narrowed Cincinnati’s lead to 17-10.

That’s so Bengals.

This is the first team since the 1939 Eagles, according to ESPN, to start the season with two home games and fail to score a touchdown in either game, and the 2017 Bengals cracked open the history books again Monday night by committing a franchise-record 173 yards worth of penalties.

Kirkpatrick gets the game ball, or perhaps the game flag, for that. Two plays after Bell kept a drive going by gaining nine yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 36, Kirkpatrick interfered with Martavis Bryant in the fourth quarter for 30 yards to set up Boswell’s 37-yard field goal that narrowed the Bengals’ lead to 20-13.

The Steelers committed enough penalties themselves to cost them the game had they played against a team with any kind of discipline. In a bizarro twist to this brutal rivalry, Vontaze Burfict was knocked out of the game by a guy who was still 18 years old when Burfict ended Le’Veon Bell’s 2015 season. JuJu Smith-Schuster floored the infamous Bengals’ linebacker with a block. The Steelers receiver was penalized for standing over Burfict and taunting him, and he also was suspended for a game.

Smith-Schuster still might be the youngest player in the NFL, but no longer is he the fresh-faced rookie with SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas. In his second NFL game as someone who’s old enough to drink, Smith-Schuster became a villian in the eyes of some, spray-painting his name in the alley of the NFL’s nastiest rivalry.

At that moment, some of Smith-Schuster’s teammates might have wanted a piece of him just as badly as Bengals fans did, because the penalty erased a 12-yard gain and moved the Steelers back to their own 34-yard line with seven minutes left.

But how can the Steelers beat themselves against a franchise with a trophy case full of nooses?

Roethlisberger picked up 60 of the 66 yards the Steelers needed on the next five plays. Throwing for 24 yards to Brown, 18 yards to Bell, five yards to Smith-Schuster and 13 yards to Jesse James. The final six yards came on a touchdown pass to Brown, and just as the Steelers had rallied to tie the Bengals, the Bengals rallied to tie the Steelers on the suspension scoreboard when George Iloka whacked Brown in the head after the touchdown.

The Steelers kicked off from the 50 with that penalty and Bengals started from their 12 and went three-and-out. The ensuing punt set up the Steelers at their 41-yard line with 2:42 left. The Bengals put up little resistance as the Steelers moved the ball 34 yards on seven plays, and a 43-yard field goal attempt became a 38-yarder when Josh Shaw apparently thought he was playing soccer and tried to block the kick with his foot after crossing the line of scrimmage well before the ball was snapped.

Boswell, just as much of a Bengals tormentor since 2015 as anyone, made his 24th field goal in 24 tries against Cincinnati to give the Steelers the win and improve their record to 10-2. Only four Steelers opponents have ever blown leads bigger than the 17-point edge the Bengals squandered Monday night.

It’s easy to forget that the deficit would have been bigger if it weren’t for Shazier. Holding a team to a field goal is trivial with his career and quality of life at stake, but that’s just what Shazier did by limiting Josh Malone to a three-yard gain on second-and-five.

Even though he spent most of it in the hospital, Shazier helped the Steelers win this game.

It’s unimportant whether it happens this year or next year, but there’s a chance Shazier can help the Steelers win more games.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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