CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals‘ depleted defense went with an all-out blitz, hoping to push the Steelers out of field goal range. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger threw a short pass that Antonio Brown turned into a 31-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left, and the Bengals’ litany of last-second losses grew with another mindboggling finish.
Brown’s catch-and-run into the end zone gave Pittsburgh a 28-21 victory Sunday that evened up the AFC North and left the Bengals (4-2) trying to figure out what happens next. That final play will stick with them for a while.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Monday that he decided to blitz in hopes of pushing the Steelers (3-2-1) out of Chris Boswell’s range. The Steelers trailed 21-20 and could have won with a field goal.
“We just decided to go after them,” Austin said. “I want our guys to play aggressive, we’re playing to win, and they had a good play called.”
When Roethlisberger saw the Bengals had no safety guarding against a big play, he knew Brown would have a clear path to the end zone. He took the snap and quickly tossed it to Brown, who ran untouched for Pittsburgh’s seventh straight win in the series.
In the aftermath, the Bengals were left trying to pick up the pieces of a defense that lost numerous players and is headed to Kansas City for a game Sunday night. The Chiefs (5-1) have one of the league’s top offenses and are coming off a 43-40 loss to New England.
Linebacker Nick Vigil left in the first quarter with an injured left knee and is out indefinitely. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard hurt his right shoulder late in the first half and didn’t return. Safety Shawn Williams left with a concussion in the third quarter. Others were in and out of the lineup with injuries.
The defense starred in Cincinnati’s solid start, scoring three touchdowns and finishing off three games by getting turnovers. With a chance to end the Bengals’ streak of abysmal finishes against the Steelers, the defense failed to hold on.
The Steelers got the ball at their 23-yard line with 1:12 left and three timeouts. Roethlisberger completed passes of 8 and 10 yards to JuJu Smith-Schuster. A holding call on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick provided a first down.
Roethlisberger completed another pass that Smith-Schuster turned into a 23-yard gain and put them in field goal range with 15 seconds left and two timeouts. That play put the Steelers in position to pull it out.
“That was one there that he found the hole in the coverage,” Austin said. “Every coverage has got a little bit of a weakness in it, and where they hit us was right behind the linebackers and just in front of the safeties.”
Although Boswell has struggled this season, he has never missed a kick at Paul Brown Stadium. He had a game winner with 14 seconds left in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 playoff victory in 2015. He had another on the final play of a 23-20 victory last December.
Austin decided to take a chance with a blitz, hoping to drop a runner for a loss or sack Roethlisberger, rather than leave Boswell in position to kick another game winner.
“I didn’t want to leave it into the field goal kicker’s hands and allow him because it’s not every day you block a field goal,” Austin said.
DEFENDING BURFICT: Coach Marvin Lewis declined again on Monday to address linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s latest hit to Brown’s head . Burfict hit Brown in the shoulder and helmet with his forearm as the receiver was being tackled by Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates.
Brown was shaken up and left the game for a couple of plays. The officials didn’t flag the play, but the NFL could discipline Burfict after reviewing it. Burfict was suspended by the league for hitting Brown in the head during the 2015 playoff game and was suspended for the start of the next season. He also was suspended for the first three games of the 2017 season for an egregious hit during a preseason game. He sat out the first four this year for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“Everybody makes a comment on everything that 55 does,” Lewis said, using Burfict’s number. “They don’t comment on anything anybody else does, so let’s leave it at that.”