The Pittsburgh Steelers open their 2022 season on the road for the eighth straight game while delivering a winning 4-2-1 record during that period.
The history between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals show the Steelers have dominated their division rivals. Pittsburgh has an overall 67-38 record and when they travel to Cincinnati, they hold a 32-21 lead. During the Ben Roethlisberger years, the Steelers overwhelmed the Bengals 28-10, including two playoff victories.
Last season, with the Bengals enjoying their resurrection under Joe Burrow, it was the first time for eleven years the Bengals swept the series.
After being in the shadow of the Steelers in the seventies, the Bengals turned it around in the eighties. While the Steelers suffered a post-Terry Bradshaw decline, the Bengals managed two visits to the Super Bowl although both times failed to register a win. They remain one of twelve teams without a Lombardi.
In 1991 mid-season, both teams were lying in the basement of the AFC Central. Houston was on top at 7-2 with Cleveland in second place at 4-5. Pittsburgh was two games in front of Cincinnati but suffering a four-game losing streak. After dropping their first eight games, the Bengals had edged the Browns the previous week to register their first win.
Having lost their previous three games in Cincinnati, the local Enquirer previewed the game with the headline predicting, ‘Steelers Losing Streak to Continue.’
In the gameday edition of the Pittsburgh Press, the newspaper put the spotlight on Chuck Noll. The Press wondered if Noll’s coaching days were over. It made the point that he should involve himself more with the training and reclaim his team. The Press suggested he had become an administrator while it was his assistants who now did the teaching. Despite this view, they did forecast a Steelers 23-17 win.
Offensive coordinator Joe Walton ran a Steelers offense which was viewed as too complicated, especially by Bubby Brister who had been their starting quarterback the previous season.
Brister began the 1991 season as the starter, but during an inept performance in week seven, Neil O’Donnell replaced him to earn the starting job.
The (3-6) Steelers at the (1-8) Bengals, November 10, 1991
The Bengals gave the appearance of extending their winning streak against Pittsburgh when they took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. A 63-yard kickoff return set up a 29-yard field goal while on their next series, Ickey Woods added a 4-yard touchdown run.
In the second quarter, the Steelers put points on the scoreboard when Gary Anderson hit two field goals from 44 and 46 yards while missing one from 37 yards. The Bengals countered with a 79-yard drive finishing with Boomer Esiason’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Holman. The Bengals would take a 17-6 lead into the locker room as the Steelers’ struggle on offense continued.
In the second half, the Steelers defense sparked the team into action. Cornerback David Johnson blindsided Esiason who fumbled and watched linebacker Jerrol Williams scoop the ball up and run it back 38 yards for the touchdown.
The Bengals restored their eleven-point lead early in the final period when Woods capped a 78-yard drive with his second score on a 1-yard run.
Pittsburgh’s reply began with a fake reverse and ended with rookie receiver Ernie Mills catching his first NFL touchdown pass. His 35-yard touchdown capped a 4-play drive of 76 yards.
With O’Donnell growing in confidence, the quarterback found Mills again with a 30-yard pass to extend the Steelers next series. O’Donnell completed the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Louis Lipps to give the Steelers their first lead of the game at 27-24 with 1:24 remaining.
Esiason moved the Bengals to within field goal range only to see Jim Breech’s successful kick from 37 yards nullified by a holding penalty. Breech made good when it was retaken from the 47 to take the game into overtime.
The Bengals took the ball first and were moving the chains when Greg Lloyd made the play of the game. Fighting off a Bengals’ block as Woods advanced the ball, Lloyd forced the runner inside before swatting the ball loose. Lloyd picked up the ball and would have returned it for a touchdown had he not been pulled to the ground by his face mask.
The personal foul penalty added 15 yards to Lloyd’s 19-yard return and put the Steelers in good position to kick the winning field goal. Faced with a third down, Coach Walton chose not to use a running play to edge them closer for the field goal attempt. Walton sent in a pass play that O’Donnell used to find tight end Eric Green with a 26-yard touchdown pass that sealed the Steelers’ 33-27 victory.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 33 at the Cincinnati Bengals 27
Neil O’Donnell started the next four games posting just one win before Brister returned to guide the Steelers to their last two victories including the Bengals’ return game in Pittsburgh. That win saw Pittsburgh sweep the series for the first time in four years but with a 7-9 record on the season, the Steelers missed the playoffs for the second year running.
Greg Lloyd finished the game with 8 tackles, 2 sacks for 18 yards and 2 forced fumbles. On the play that won the game for the Steelers, Lloyd acknowledged, “That’s something we’ve been trying to work on in practice, trying to strip the ball away because we haven’t had as many takeaways this year as we have in the past.”
“It’s the first closest one we’ve had in a while and we’re proud of that,” said Coach Noll. “We haven’t had a lot of success in this town. We’re celebrating and rightly so.”