CINCINNATI — An elusive rookie made all the difference by darting through the Steelers’ defense.
Running back Giovani Bernard scored his first two NFL touchdowns, one of them on a short pass that he turned into a 27-yard score, and the Cincinnati Bengals beat Pittsburgh 20-10 on Monday night, extending the Steelers’ early-season misery.
The second-round draft pick had a 7-yard touchdown run in the first half before turning a short pass from Andy Dalton into a third-quarter score – a preview of what the Bengals (1-1) could become with a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
First-round pick Tyler Eifert also had a big play, making a 61-yard catch that set up Bernard’s touchdown run.
The Bengals piled up 407 yards on one of the NFL’s toughest defenses, holding the ball for more than 35 minutes.
Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2002, done in by another game of self-destruction on offense. The Steelers had two turnovers in scoring range and couldn’t hold the ball long enough to give their defense a breather, failing to get a first down on seven of their 12 possessions.
It was a chance for the Bengals to show they’ve supplanted the Steelers in the AFC North. They beat Pittsburgh 13-10 at Heinz Field last December to reach the playoffs as a wild card – they lost to the Houston Texans – and now have moved ahead of them again with a rare Monday night win.
Cincinnati is 10-20 in Monday night games.
The Bengals put the ball in the Dalton’s hands in the first half, letting him pass away while they all but abandoned the run against one of the NFL’s top defenses. Dalton had an up-and-down game, finishing 25 of 45 for 280 yards. He was one attempt shy of career high.
Cincinnati’s rookies provided the big plays.
Eifert got open between cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Clark for his 61-yard catch. Bernard finished the long drive with a 7-yard run, his first touchdown in the NFL, for the early lead.
The Steelers needed to get their offense moving after a horrid opener. They ran for only 32 yards and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times during a 16-9 home loss to Tennessee. Worse, the Steelers lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey for the rest of the season with a torn knee ligament. Fernando Velasco, signed a week earlier, started in his place Monday.
They weren’t significantly better in Cincinnati.
Roethlisberger got Pittsburgh’s offense moving in spurts. He completed all five of his passes on a touchdown drive that pulled the Steelers into a 10-all tie at halftime, including completions of 19 and 43 yards to Emmanuel Sanders.
Shaun Suisham kicked a 44-yard field goal, and the Steelers had a chance to add to the lead in the first half. But another mistake — and they’ve had a lot of those already — provided the game’s first turning point.
Pinned at their 3-yard line after a punt, the Steelers drove into scoring position. Roethlisberger completed a 34-yard pass to tight end David Paulson, who fumbled the ball as he was tackled. Adam “Pacman” Jones forced the fumble and recovered it at the Cincinnati 13-yard line.
Another of Roethlisberger’s passes went off Jerricho Cotchery’s hands and was picked off at the Bengals 13-yard line in the fourth quarter, essentially sealing it. Roethlisberger finished 20 of 37 for 251 yards.
The most intriguing question: Could Steeler-turned-Bengal James Harrison leave a mark on Pittsburgh’s mess of an offense?
The linebacker left Pittsburgh after last season when they couldn’t agree on a restricted deal. The former NFL defensive player of the year took his scowl 300 miles down the Ohio River to a team that’s trying to supplant the Steelers in the AFC North.
Roethlisberger kept a safe distance from Harrison.